Challenging Incarceration in NY State
The New York Times recently published a series of investigative articles exposing extreme racial injustice at every level of the New York State prison system. The articles are detailed, factual, important, and timely.
The Times has documented with numbers and research what anyone with eyes in their head – and the political will to use them — has plainly seen for at least 50 years. The pervasive racism, violence, and brutality “exposed” by the Times has been documented and publicized so many times by so many organizations for so many years, while being denied, ignored, and justified by media and policymakers, that one would have to conclude that it is in fact the outcome intended by those who created and continue to maintain the prison system.
What did the policymakers of this state think would happen in prisons placed as far from the home communities of the incarcerated as geographically possible, filled with low-income people of color from urban areas and staffed with white people from rural areas, who are then given free rein to punish, abuse, rape, beat, torment, isolate, humiliate, and sometimes murder at will as long as they mention the magic word “security”? If a contrary story should leak out, guards and officials alike hammer home the point (as they already have with the Times series) that no one should believe the testimony of convicted felons (read: people of color), who are almost always the only witnesses other than the abusers. U.S. History plainly shows that armed white people given unrestricted, unaccountable control over black and brown people will rarely act with fairness, compassion, and transparency. Yet, our entire prison system is built upon the assumption that they will.
The prison boom, which took off in the 1960s with racially coded “tough on crime” slogans, was based on zero evidence that more prisons make less crime. Literally hundreds of thousands of wasted lives and a swath of decimated communities of color later, scholarly research points out that more and harsher policing and sentencing do not reduce crime. The time for surprise, investigation, and justification is long past. Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, together with a large and growing community-based anti-mass incarceration movement, demands immediate action to reverse the policies of over-policing, over-sentencing, and over-incarcerating that have devastated our communities of color and other marginalized communities for the past 50 years.
To that end, Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration has joined with dozens of organizations around the state to support a platform, “Challenging Incarceration,” which provides a set of policies that would drastically alter the injustice system of New York State. If passed, New York State would become a leader in the fight to end mass incarceration, providing a model for other states to follow, and beginning to undo the decades of horror and suffering that have been inflicted upon communities of color and other marginalized communities by the prison system.
None of these policy proposals are new. Prisoners, family members, and advocates have been calling for many of these laws and changes for years. We are grateful that the New York Times investigation has helped expose the problems to a wider audience and prompted such shock in our elected leaders. Now those leaders need to do something about it.
The full Challenging Incarceration Platform, as well as the 2017 legislative priorities, can be read below.