Albany, NY – Hundreds of people from across the state assembled in Albany today to promote the closures of prisons in the adult and juvenile systems and to press for reforms that will keep adults and youth out of prison, strengthen communities through effective preventive services, and save critically needed tax dollars.Lawmakers joined advocates; youth, adults, and families personally impacted by the criminal and juvenile justice system; community organizers; and service providers to urge the State to heed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for prison closures. During his first State of the State address the Governor proclaimed, “An incarceration program is not an employment program… Don’t put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That’s not what this state is all about and that has to end this session.”
In addition to prison downsizing, advocates put pressure on lawmakers to restore funding for preventive services and programs for runaway and homeless youth – programs that help keep children out of the juvenile justice system. To reduce incarceration in the adult prison system advocates also demanded a full repeal of the racially biased, unduly harsh, and ineffective Rockefeller Drug Laws; expansion of merit time release and work release eligibility; and parole reform.
“The current system places young people, who are predominantly children of color, hours from their families in failing and sometimes brutal institutions," said Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association. “Effective and proven community based alternatives that keep youth close to home exist. We are in Albany to urge lawmakers to increase their support for these alternatives.”
The advocates were also joined by youth who benefited from the kind of Alternative to Detention and Alternative to Incarceration (ATD/ATI) programs that consistently result in better outcomes for youth, their families, and their communities, and cost taxpayers as little as 10 percent the cost of holding them in facilities far from their families and home communities.
Jeannette Bocanegra, a parent of a formerly incarcerated young person spoke at the press rally. She said, “Having my child locked up in a facility hours away from his family and community did not help him. We needed support and resources to address the problems that caused his missteps, not punishment and incarceration. The experience of incarceration only made things worse. I don’t want another child or another mother to go through a similar harmful experience.”
Kirsten Escobar, Drop the Rock Coordinator, stated, “In the past 10 years New York’s prison population has dropped by over 15,000 people and the crime rate steadily declined. Closing underutilized prisons can save our fiscally strapped state millions over the next two years. And we can no longer afford to use prisons as an economic stimulus plan. Warehousing low-income people of color to create jobs in upstate communities is unconscionable. State leaders must develop alternative and sustainable economic development in communities which have grown dependent on incarceration.”
Elijah said, “We look to the governor and the legislature to enact fair and humane measures that will reduce our youth and adult prison population and save the state money, while investing in approaches that cut recidivism rates and restore the well-being of our people and communities.”