Prison Relations Advisory Committee (PRAC)
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged on how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”– Nelson Mandela
-The Town of Bedford is composed of 18,000 people, including the 1000 women who reside in both of our two NYS women’s prisons: Taconic Correctional Facility and Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
The Prison Relations Advisory Committee (PRAC) was established by a unanimous vote on a Resolution to the Town Board in December 2019 after the successful Adopt-A-Prison event, a joint venture of the Interfaith Prison Partnership Program, the Town Supervisor, and the Superintendent of both NYS women’s prisons in the Town of Bedford.
The purpose of PRAC is to
1. Advise the Town Government on Prison Issues in general, and specifically issues as they relate to our two women’s prisons; and
2 To give examples and choices to the community of ways in which they could each “adopt” their local prisons and the women within, with an emphasis on “we”, rather than “they” and “us”.
It is our mission to unite those on the outside with those on the inside of the prison walls; to “adopt our prisons”. We are composed of nineteen members who are committed to engaging and integrating the entire community of the Town of Bedford, regardless on which side of the prison wall one lives.
The first meeting of PRAC was January 2020. Almost immediately afterward, COVID-19 hit and we went full throttle to help our neighbors in prison by engaging the community to donate non-lye-based soap, masks, hot plates, plasticware – the list continues – in an effort to keep the women safe from the coronavirus. The “walls” between the prison and the community have become much more pliable as we see each other as the neighbors we, indeed, are.
PRAC subcommittees and highlights of endeavors:
Bright Hope –”Release Bags”, filled with toiletries, a blanket, towel/washcloth, etc provided – filled with in kind items donated by the community – for women upon their release and who are going to live in a homeless shelter.
Correctional Facility Employment – Opportunities for the Bedford Community: MaryAnn Carr and Sharon Ballen
Masks for the women in prison during COVID: Anne Lloyd
Soap The community has donated over 50,000 bars of soap for the women in our correctional facilities to use during COVID. The collection of soap continues, as does COVID. Donations may be left on the porch of the Church House of Katonah Presbyterian Church at 31 Bedford Road, Katonah. Coordinator: Elizabeth Friend-Ennis
Sidewalk Development: Working with former US Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney who put funds for this sidewalk in his Biden Infrastructure Bill request, the new sidewalk will be built in 2024. This will permit families and staff to walk safely from the train station and the bus station.
Transgender Rights in Prison: Working initially with the Deputy Superintendents of Programs and the Superintendents of both Taconic and BHCF, and then with NYS DOCCS Associate Commissioner and Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Coordinator, as well as the DOCCS Assistant Deputy Superintendent for LGBTIQ+ Inclusivity, as well as with professionals from The LOFT and the Women’s Prison Association, a support group of the transgender population in our local correctional facilities is being planned and formed and efforts are underway.
Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship – Delighted to share the kick off of the Therapeutic Horsemanship Program bringing its therapeutic program within the facilities to begin in May 2023.
Sharon Griest Ballen, Chair
Interfaith Prison Partnership
Bedford Hills College Program
Associate Minister, Antioch Baptist Church
Bobbi M. Bittker
Bedford Town Councilwoman
Member, Founding Planning Committee for Adopt a Prison
Ad Hoc Committee Member
Westchester County Legislator
Director, Interfaith Prison Partnership
Bard Prison Initiative
Upper Westchester Muslim Society
Fr. Ron Lemmert
Retired Prison Chaplain
Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA)
Columbia University Center for Social Justice
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