In light of the recent election results that put Democrats overwhelmingly in control of the New York Senate, Assembly, and Governor’s office: lawmakers, survivors of incarceration, family members, and a broad cross-section of advocacy groups held speak-outs today in Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Rockland County, and Syracuse. Speakers across the state urged Governor Cuomo, Senators, and Assembly Members to finally enact a platform of interconnected, urgent, and necessary policy changes in the upcoming legislative session to: end mass incarceration, promote community empowerment, end state violence and torture, and end structural racism and other forms of intersectional oppression. Specific legislative demands included (in the order of the stages of the system):
- Marijuana Legalization and Taxation Act, S3040/A3506;
- Bail, S.3579A/A5033A, and Discovery, S.7722/A10135 reform;
- Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, S.5116/A.3110;
- HALT Solitary Confinement Act, S.4784A/A.3080B;
- Restore education access, S.3735/A.3995, and voting rights to people incarcerated & on parole;
- Restore 7-day visits, S.6725/ A.7241 and free visiting bus program, S.5693/ A.7016, house people close to their children, S.7757A/A.10204, and ensure technology is not used to restrict family ties.
- Parole Justice: Elder Parole, S.8581/A.6354A, and S.8346/A.7546; and
- Reparations, S.5624A/A.7274A, and racial & ethnic impact statements, S.5921/A.7519 & A.5851.
“New York has never had a greater opportunity to enact key criminal justice reforms and I am hopeful that our movement will be successful in the coming year. We will not accept any further delays while the criminal legal system continues to destroy people, families, and entire communities across the state. Political leaders in Albany must make the reforms necessary to end New York’s epidemic of mass incarceration immediately,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.
“For decades, New York’s racist criminal legal system has targeted Black and Brown people, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA community with mass criminalization and state sanctioned violence. In spite of this, these communities have been building grassroots power to fundamentally change the system and end mass incarceration in our state. Central to that strategy has been organizing for progressive representation in our legislature. New York is now a triple blue state. We have the unprecedented opportunity to pass policies that will decarcerate and achieve racial justice and equity for all New Yorkers. There are no more excuses. We cannot call ourselves a progressive state while allowing this to continue. We demand that New York State dismantle injustice in the 2019 legislative session. - Jamaica Miles, Capital District Lead Organizer, Citizen Action of New York
Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration “wants our state officials to know that mass incarceration is not a downstate issue, it is an all-state issue. Communities outside New York City represent more than half the 78,000 people in local jails and state prisons in New York State. The racial disproportion upstate is as great as, and in some cases greater than, it is downstate. Here in Albany our families and communities are devastated by the same practices being addressed all over the state today: bail that punishes the poor, the torture of solitary confinement, cruel and unnecessary parole denials, elders dying in prison, racist impacts on people of color at every level, and more. Our upstate communities are also represented in the campaigns to demand change -- voices of activists, advocates, prison families, and people formerly incarcerated. Today's coordinated speakouts across the state are a signal that our upstate and downstate justice organizations can and will speak with one strong voice to demand broad, deep, and uncompromising reforms.”
“Transformative legislation must be on the top of every electeds to-do list,” said Marvin Mayfield, a leader of the #FREEnewyork Campaign and member of JustLeadershipUSA. “We expect and demand legislation that decarcerates and acknowledges the fundamental dignity of all people. This includes bail reform that ends money bail without instituting risk assessment instruments or mass electronic shackling. It includes discovery overhaul that ensures people have early, open, and automatic access to the evidence in their case. It also includes the legalization of marijuana, elder parole, and the end of long-term solitary confinement. New York must dismantle systems that have targeted and criminalized Black, brown, and working-class communities. The time is now.”
"Mass incarceration remains the law of the land and that must change. We need reforms to Bail and Discovery laws in Albany and significant decriminalization across our state to keep people out of jail. We must also hold District Attorneys accountable for not turning over discovery, making high bail requests and for false arrest and wrongful prosecutions," said VOCAL-NY community leader Dwayne Lee.
“Next session, Albany will finally have the opportunity to reform many outmoded criminal justice laws including discovery, bail, speedy trial, and others,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Our clients – mostly New Yorkers from communities of color – have borne the brunt of these broken laws, and robust reform cannot wait any longer. The Legal Aid Society joins others here today reaffirming our committing for progressive reform and urging Albany to advance these measures immediately next session.”
"We can't end mass incarceration in New York State unless we create clear decarceration pathways," said Anthony Dixon of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign. "Governor Cuomo and the legislature could do that tomorrow by fully staffing the Parole Board with commissioners who are committed to restoring parole-ready individuals to a useful existence, ensuring the parole release process is based on who a person is today, and releasing elders from prison. Cuomo and our legislators should be ashamed that our state has the second largest prison budget in the union and is home to the second highest population of parole-eligible lifers. Once the home of anti-slavery abolitionists, New York state has become a principal investor in the Prison-Industrial-Complex and a leader of a punitive-fixated generation. It's time to take action and change course.
The Coalition for Women Prisoners “stands today with the organizers of this speak out to demand that New York lawmakers support and enact laws and policies that result in ending mass incarceration, ensure humane treatment of those who are currently incarcerated, and eliminate the barriers to successful re-entry to those who are returning to our communities. The Coalition for Women Prisoners wants NY elected officials to know that now is the time to finally end the criminalization of domestic violence survivor/defendants and pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, providing alternatives to prison instead of the long sentences that survivors currently receive. We demand justice for DV survivors, and NY lawmakers can make that a reality.”
The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement “stands in Solidarity with the gathered groups to address and say to Governor Cuomo and State Senators and Assembly Members that "We the People" demand a fairer and more just systemic change to reflect the real needs of the people. NY must pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act to end the torture of solitary for all people, including thousands of New Yorkers who regularly spend months, years, and even decades trapped in a box. NY must also bring pre-trial and parole justice, protect DV survivors, restore voting rights and higher education access to people who are incarcerated, promote and support the families and communities of incarcerated people, repair the harms of mass incarceration, and transform the entire injustice system that is destroying people, families, and communities.”
“For far too long, our State has fallen short in our efforts to reform our criminal justice system and has marginalized low-income and minority communities in the process,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I will continue to work tirelessly to finally enact progressive policies to establish a more efficient and just criminal justice system while addressing the dire consequences our communities have faced as a result of these unjust policies.”
“We have a lot of work to do in the upcoming legislative session when it comes to criminal justice reform,” said Assemblyman David I. Weprin, Assembly Correction Committee Chair. “By passing a number of key pieces of legislation in the next year, including my bills to codify 7-day visitation at state correctional facilities, institute elder parole, and provide for presumptive release for individuals with low risk; we can make for a better, safer and fairer New York in 2019. I want to thank my Assembly colleagues who have been partners in the prison reform effort. I also want to thank the broad coalition of prison advocacy groups who have continuously advocated and to promote justice across our great State.”
Robb Smith, Executive Director of Interfaith Impact of NYS, said, "We join with our allies in calling for long-overdue criminal justice reforms. Interfaith Impact strongly supports passing the HALT Act immediately to mitigate the torture of solitary confinement in our prisons. We are also outraged by the egregious Jim Crow practice of using cash bail to keep innocent poor people, and especially people of color, in our local jails. There are many alternatives to cash bail. It's time to stop this unjust incarceration of the innocent."
Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement said: "The psychological and physical harm of solitary confinement cannot be ignored any longer. Many states, counties, and cities have moved away from this barbaric practice AND seen positive outcomes as a result. It is time to start holding those in positions of power responsible for the choice to use torture on arguably one of the most vulnerable populations in the country."
ENDORSING ORGANIZATIONS: Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), Alliance of Families for Justice, Brooklyn Defender Services, Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI), Center for Law and Justice, Citizen Action of NY, Coalition for Women Prisoners, Correctional Association of NY, CODEPINK NYC, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), End Solitary Santa Cruz, Interfaith Impact of NYS, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, John Brown Lives!, JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), The Legal Aid Society, Life Progressive Services Group Inc. Westchester, NAACP Albany Chapter, National Action Network, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, New York State Council of Churches, NYC Metro Raging Grannies, Public Interest Resource Center at Fordham Law School, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), ROC/ACTS Criminal Justice Task Force, Rockland Coalition to End the New Jim Crow, Rockland Prison Justice Project, Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement, Unchained, Uptown Progressive Action, Urban Justice Center, VOCAL-NY, WESPAC Foundation.
BACKGROUND: The system of incarceration in New York continues to destroy people, families, and communities. Rooted in the ongoing legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and ghettoization, New York’s policing, jails, and prisons are at their core driven by racism, dehumanization, and otherization. Black people in particular are targeted for criminalization, policing, incarceration, and other state violence and torture. These systems also target women, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming people; Latinx, Native American, and Muslim people; people with mental health needs; poor people of all backgrounds; and other marginalized people. Moreover, the incarceration system is deeply interconnected with the mass detention and deportation of our immigrant sisters, brothers, and cousins.
Because incarceration is a tool and product of the intersectional oppression of our people and communities, a paradigm of punishment infuses the incarceration system. The results are atrocities ranging from police killings and violence, to incarcerating people rather than proven health interventions for addiction or mental health needs, to people suffering in cages while in jail pre-trial, to predatory prosecutions including of DV survivors, to extreme sentence lengths and people languishing in prison for years and decades, to the torture of solitary confinement and horrific officer brutality, to stripping New Yorkers of access to education or voting rights or family/community connections, to repeated parole denials to people who pose no safety risk, to perpetual barriers to reintegration, to immigrants targeted for detention and deportation. These policies and practices have devastating impacts on people, families, and communities.
New York must dismantle this racist and patriarchal injustice/incarceration system and reconstruct our State through caring and empowered communities with control over the decisions and resources that affect our own lives. To enhance true public safety and build stronger communities, New York must shift focus and resources away from the violence of incarceration and toward services, programs, support, healing, transformation, and empowerment that help communities thrive.
As a result of years and decades of community advocacy and activism, Democratic policy-makers in New York have in recent years been calling for, and running elections on the need for, fundamental changes to the injustice/incarceration system. Meanwhile, their Republican opponents this election cycle tried to push forward a race-infused “tough on crime” campaign. Unlike in past decades, the voters overwhelmingly rejected this fear mongering. With Democrats as a result in firm control of the New York Senate, Assembly, and Governor’s office, now is the time to adopt and implement urgent and necessary changes. As a start, today’s participants called for Governor Cuomo and New York legislators to focus this legislative session on the front-end fueling of the carceral state, the horrors endured by people incarcerated, the perpetual incarceration of people and denials of release, and the need to dismantle the entire racist system and repair the harm inflicted.
Specifically, this session there must be marijuana legalization in light of how the drug war has been a façade for a war on Black and Brown people and poor people that fueled the incarceration system. Changes must also address how women, particularly women of color, are criminalized and the need for judges to have discretion in sentencing DV survivors convicted of crimes directly resulting from their abuse. Changes must address the unjust pretrial system, jail abuses, and jail expansion across New York counties, including overhauling bail and discovery laws to ensure due process, the presumption of innocence and ending wealth- and race-based jailing, as well as enhancing oversight and ultimately ending pretrial detention. Lawmakers must also empower people through access to education, voting rights, and strengthened support for families and community ties while ending the torture of solitary confinement as part of a shift away from the racist punishment paradigm of the whole system. They must address draconian sentences, perpetual punishment, and the need to release people who have spent years and decades in prison and demonstrate their low risk and release readiness. Ultimately, New York policy-makers must, in this legislative session, begin to dismantle the entire racist and horrific system and repair the harm inflicted.