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Kelsey claims civil rights as ex-con violated

Dept. of Corrections responds

POUGHKEEPSIE — Former Republican Dutchess County Legislator (District 25) and convicted sex offender Michael Kelsey has filed a combination of complaints and lawsuits against his Parole Officer (PO) Christopher Miller, Supervising PO Sabrina Wyns, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), the Poughkeepsie Parole Bureau and Bureau Chief Irma Machado for violating his civil rights.

Machado responded to one of the complaints on Wednesday, July 20. As part of that response, he removed a restriction placed by Miller, adding he will look into whether some of the conditions placed by the PO were unreasonable.

History

Kelsey was convicted in 2014 and was released on May 5 of this year after serving six years at the Hudson Correction Facility.

While serving in the Dutchess County Legislature in 2009, he represented the towns of Amenia, Pleasant Valley and Washington, and the village of Millbrook.

Prior to his conviction, Kelsey was an attorney by trade who volunteered for Fishkill Boy Scout Troop 95 Venture Patrol. It was that volunteerism that led to his prison sentence. Two Scouts testified in court he made sexual advances during an August 2014 camping trip to Cranberry Lake.

Kelsey, a 38-year-old Salt Point resident, was originally sentenced to serve seven years for sexual abuse — crimes of which he continues to claim his innocence.

He explained that while in prison, he was classified as a Tier 4 inmate, which he described as the category for the lowest level of offenders. Upon release, however, the county placed Kelsey into Tier 1, the highest level of offenders with the highest chances of recidivism.

Kelsey said the county does so with all sex offenders. That action, he said, made his assimilation back into society impossible — just as he charges it’s done for all sex offenders.

The COMPAS tool

Kelsey told this newspaper in a recent telephone interview that Dutchess County relies on a program known as COMPAS, which stands for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions.

It’s a widely used algorithm in the U.S. criminal justice system that’s been adopted by many states, including New York. COMPAS is defined as “a case management and decision support tool.” The courts use it to assess how likely a defendant is to commit a crime.

Kelsey said the tier classification is dependant on behavior “inside the walls,” for instance if one participates in classes, therapy, if a prisoner has a strong support system, dependency issues and other factors. That’s how he came to be classified as Tier 1, as he met all the metrics.

Lawsuits, grievances

That’s also why he’s suing Machado in the State of New York Supreme Court in Dutchess County, he said.

Kelsey filed the Article 78 lawsuit against Machado “individually, and in his official capacity as New York State DOCCS bureau chief,” according to the document. While he lost his license to practice law due to his conviction, Kelsey is representing himself in the lawsuit filings.

Kelsey said New York prisons “put you through a risk assessment,” but because they don’t make use of the outcomes of those assessments they are violating ex-cons’ civil rights, in his opinion.

DOCCS responds

DOCCS Spokesperson Nicole Sheremeta responded by saying that “Mandatory sex offender supervision cases are assigned to and supervised on a 25:1 case load status. You can refer to Directive #8500 in regards to guidelines and procedures to identify the strategies for conducting the supervision status of a sex offender.”

That directive states that “The instrument compiles criminogenic need scales inclusive of risk of felony violence, arrest risk, and risk of absconding, criminal involvement, history of violence, prison misconduct, re-entry substance abuse, negative social cognitions, low self-efficacy/optimism, low family support, re-entry financial and re-entry employment expectations. It also summarizes the releasee’s criminogenic profile and delineates their strengths and weaknesses to be used together with professional judgment to reach supervision classification decisions and guide supervision activities.”

It continues that “Supervision Status is the outcome of the assessment tool which assists in determining the intensity of supervision and management of the criminogenic and stabilization needs,” adding there are four supervision status levels, with 1 being “the most intensive” and “4 being the least intensive.”

That appears to conflict with what Kelsey said he was told about the tier system, which is part of the basis of his lawsuit against Machado.

Church restrictions

One of Kelsey’s complaints stated he was told he couldn’t go to church, and that when he was given permission to attend, he was told he must sit in the front pew and use the same bathroom as the priests.

“I think they’re treating sex offenders like pariahs and telling us that we can’t participate with the community,” he said. “A church community is one of the places that they’re accepting of ex-cons. I won’t say I’m surprised. There is a wide stigma attached to both ex-cons and specifically sex offenders.

“There are laws and legislation that treat sex offenders as more dangerous than they are, and we do live in culture that sees sex offenders as icky,” he added, “so I’m not surprised by this treatment; it’s not right.”

After this newspaper contacted the DOCCS, Kelsey heard back from Machado.

“Please be advised that everyone under the supervision of DOCCS should be expected to be treated with respect, dignity and according to DOCCS directives,” Machado wrote on July 20. “I have investigated the matter and find that you are in your complete right to advocate for your rights.”

The bureau chief added he’s reviewing the grievances and discussed the issue with PO Miller; he said he’ll  make a determination shortly.

“If you have not done so, you can resume attending services at your place of worship,” added Machado. “I will be reviewing the special conditions imposed on you by PO Miller and if there are any findings that they have been improperly imposed they will be removed.”

“I believe their change in tone and permission for me to attend church is because of the pressure that your phone calls have put on them,” stated Kelsey in a July 23 email. “I just hope that the issues I raise that result in changes to my parole also leads to policy changes for those who lack the courage or knowledge to advocate for themselves.”

Other restrictions

Kelsey’s complaints also included objections to being barred from visiting with his niece and nephews, who visited him while in prison.

“The position I’m advocating is supervised contact; I’m not saying anybody with a sex offense should have unlimited contact with a kid,” he said. “I’m not comfortable being alone with kids, just because of what I went through. I get that, we need to protect them; I’m for that… But we don’t do that with the rapist who rapes a woman, and say you can’t have contact with women.

“My point is DOCCS’ policy is no contact with kids. That’s not what the courts have said and I think that’s unreasonable; we’ve been released from prison because we’ve been rehabilitated. If the goal is to reintegrate into society, we can’t do that if there’s no contact.”

Payback?

Lastly, Kelsey expressed concerns about facing retaliation for the grievances he’s filed. Sheremeta said that’s an issue for which the DOCCS has already taken preventative steps to avoid.

“Prior to the formalization of the parolee grievance program and issuance of Department Directive 9402, an individual on parole could file a formal complaint with their parole officer or through the chain of command for their reporting office,” she said. “Community Supervision has successfully been awarded accreditation prior to 2017, and through the accreditation process has been able to improve the collection of and response to grievances by those under supervision.”

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