The head of a New York agency that monitors state prisons is a tyrannical boss who demeans her formerly incarcerated employees — treating them like “props” — and has misused thousands of dollars in grant money, claims a bombshell letter written by an ex-staffer.
Jennifer Scaife, the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York (CANY), allegedly forced formerly incarcerated employees to dredge up their prison pasts like “show monkeys” to promote the agency, according to Phil Miller, who penned an 18-page letter to the board.
During Miller’s first two months at CANY, starting in February of 2019, Scaife insisted that he introduce himself in every meeting and on every phone call as “formerly incarcerated,” he said in the Aug. 27 letter.
“She was putting us and our records on display, treating us like props,” he said in an interview.
Miller, 39, who is in his first year of law school, was locked up at 19 for armed robbery and served 17 years in prison. “I should not have been forced at every turn to be reminded that no matter how many years pass and how much progress I make, I’ll never be anything more than a person who committed a felony,” he said. “It was degrading. It was humiliating.”
Scaife also allegedly insisted that two other formerly incarcerated staffers, Herbert Morales and Tyrrell Muhammad, write blog posts about their experiences being imprisoned during the AIDS epidemic.
Morales objected, allegedly telling Scaife that forcing him to revisit these traumatizing experiences was extremely stressful.
“Jennifer told him to write the blog anyway,” the letter states.
Several sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, corroborated this account.
In the missive, Miller asks to be reinstated as director of policy after Scaife allegedly fired him for confronting her over the hiring of a lobbyist, even though a firm had offered to do the same work for free.
Multiple current and former staffers echoed Miller’s concerns about Scaife and questioned her fitness to lead the group.
Scaife allegedly solicited $100,000 from non-profit FWD.us to produce a documentary and other materials about the parole process in New York and tasked Miller with overseeing the project.
After spending just $9,000 to hire a videographer and pay a stipend to three participants, Scaife allegedly funneled the rest toward the agency’s operating costs, according to Miller.
“This is clearly an example of an improper use of restricted funds,” he wrote in the letter. “It is not only unethical and could be grounds for the funder to sue CANY, but it could also be a violation of not-for-profit corporation.”
Miller documented two other alleged occasions when Scaife used funds designated for specific projects for operating costs, then allegedly misled the funders about where their money went. He claims that Scaife misused as much as $500,000 in grants.
In another widely panned move, Scaife, a white woman, allegedly told her staffers that CANY’s management team was too white, but rather than promote or hire a person of color, she demoted Associate Director of Research Evan Misshula, who is white, to the position of data scientist, the letter states.
Miller was the fourth staffer at the tiny non-profit to be fired since Scaife was hired in 2018, sources told the Post. The agency, founded 175 years ago to improve conditions for inmates, has approximately seven full-time staffers and has an operating budget of $1.3 million a year, $127,000 of which comes from the state, public records show.
After Miller was axed, Scaife and the agency’s attorney, Mark Pincus, allegedly pressured him to sign a non-disclosure agreement by threatening to ruin his reputation and budding law career, he told the Post. Miller refused.
“It is ironic that Jennifer Scaife promotes transparency for DOCCS but will not do the same in her own dealings on behalf of the organization,” Miller said in the letter.
Sources told the Post that they were stunned by Miller’s firing. “He was the superstar of the year,” said one person familiar with the agency’s inner workings. “He got the organization’s authority expanded in one legislative session.”
Miller drafted a bill, which passed in the state senate and the assembly, to strengthen CANY’s oversight of state prisons — including the ability to visit facilities on shorter notice and to privately interview inmates. The bill is awaiting a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
David Bell, the chairman of CANY’s board of directors and a senior advisor to AOL, defended Miller’s firing and insisted that audits of the agency have found no financial irregularities. Bell said the FWD.us project is still underway and isn’t slated for completion until as late as 2021. The grant proposal says it was due in November of 2019 — and Miller, who oversaw the project, said the low-budget video was the only work done.
Bell said that the firing of four people, all of whom Scaife had hired, was “typical of any organization undergoing leadership change.” He called Scaife’s alleged exploitation of staffers’ formerly incarcerated status “inaccurate.”
“We are relying on established processes, including an independent audit, to assess the allegations made by Mr. Miller,” Bell said in a statement. FWD.us and Scaife didn’t respond to requests for comment.