Jail conditions prompt clash over critics’ free speech rights - The Buffalo News
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Jail conditions prompt clash over critics’ free speech rights

The chairman and vice chairwoman of a community advisory board aimed at improving Erie County’s jails this week accused the county attorney’s office of attempting to stifle their free speech.

The Rev. Eugene L. Pierce, chairman of the Community Corrections Advisory Board, and Nan L. Haynes, board vice chairwoman, said they received negative feedback from the county attorney’s office following an op-ed piece they wrote on the need for an independent review of complaints about the county’s two jails. The article was published Monday in The Buffalo News.http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121117/OPINION/311179982

After the issue erupted during Tuesday’s monthly board meeting in Old County Hall, Haynes said she was offended by subsequent emails she received from First Assistant County Attorney Michelle Parker, which Haynes said chastised her and Pierce for appearing to speak on behalf of the entire board.

“It wasn’t from the board,” said Haynes. “We submitted something from the two of us.”

Parker, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, engaged in brief verbal sparring with Pierce, who accused her of interjecting herself into the board’s business.

“I just pointed out how the publication of that letter on behalf of this board is at odds with this organization’s bylaws,” said Parker.

To which Pierce responded: “You’re talking about something that doesn’t have any involvement with you, whatsoever. It’s a board matter, and if you cannot sit here in silence or be a member of this board, I will ask if you would leave.”

“This is a public meeting. I will not leave,” Parker retorted.

“Rev. Pierce, if I see actions by this board that I perceive are going against the bylaws of this organization, I will point that out to this organization. I will continue to do so,” Parker added later in the dispute.

Meanwhile, Thomas J. Diina, superintendent of the county’s Jail Management Division who also sits on the Community Correction Advisory Board, took exception to what he said were characterizations by Pierce and Haynes that he has been ignoring the board’s request for information on specific educational and rehabilitative programs provided to prisoners in the county jail system.

Diina insisted that he has already provided the board with all the information that is available to him.

He said he even invited the education directors of both correctional facilities to address the board at last month’s meeting, though some board members were dissatisfied with the quality of their answers.

“I’ve been pretty open. I’ve been pretty honest. I really want this board to get back to its core mission to recommend,” Diina said.

“This board was created to advise the Sheriff’s Office and the Jail Management Division to improve and create new rehabilitative programs. That’s what I want to do,” he added.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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