By MICHAEL HILL 1/11/18
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The military veterans playing cards in the Albany County jail wear the same orange uniforms as everyone else, with “INMATE” printed down the legs. But their service offers one distinct privilege: a special cellblock where they can work through problems they often share, such as substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder.
N.Y. jail program forces families to buy from online vendors that overcharge for basic items sent to inmates.
Rikers Guards Are Allegedly Sexually Abusing Visitors In Bathrooms!
In an effort to avoid newly-installed surveillance cameras in search areas, Rikers Island correctional officers take female visitors to nearby bathrooms to strip-search them, according to several women and a new report by the Jails Action Coalition. Five women have now filed notices of claim (which signal an intention to sue the city) with the city’s comptroller over their treatment in Rikers bathrooms, alleging that correctional officers sexually abused them.
Steps Toward Bail Reform Taken in Manhattan and Dutchess County
In a lawsuit filed today, the New York Civil Liberties Union challenged the imposition of cash bail when a judge has not considered a person’s ability to pay or alternatives to money bail. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dutchess County resident Christopher Kunkeli, who has spent three months in jail before trial on a petit larceny charge because his $5,000 bail is nearly half of his annual income.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that imprisoning someone solely because of their poverty violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Yet tens of thousands of New Yorkers like Kunkeli who cannot afford bail are deprived of their freedom each year. The NYCLU is seeking a ruling that could set standards for state courts that would lead to large reductions in the numbers of New Yorkers held before trial.
“Mr. Kunkeli is one of the thousands of New Yorkers each year who, though presumed innocent, remain behind bars because they don’t have means,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Justice should not depend on the size of your bank account. The courts have a responsibility to consider defendants’ financial circumstances.”
New York’s bail statute allows judges to consider alternatives to restrictive forms of bail, such as unsecured and partially-secured bond, as well as pretrial release services, which are available in most counties and have been successful at ensuring participants appear in court. The judge in Mr. Kunkeli’s case set his $5,000 bail and $10,000 bond without considering Kunkeli’s ability to pay, and ordered him jailed in Dutchess County when he could not. Kunkeli was initially arrested on October 10 of last year, accused of shoplifting a vacuum cleaner from Target.
“Five thousand dollars is standing between me and my freedom,” said Mr. Kunkeli. “Because I can’t afford to buy my way out of jail, I couldn’t spend time with my friends and family over the holidays.”
There is a growing nationwide consensus in support of bail reform, as states from New Jersey to Kentucky, and now New York, take steps to enact significant changes to their bail practices. Last week, during his State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo called for eliminating cash bail for low-level offenses.
“The thousands of New Yorkers languishing in jail before trial can’t wait for the possibility that Albany will act,” said Philip Desgranges, NYCLU senior staff attorney. “A ruling in this case would not only provide immediate relief to Mr. Kunkeli, but would begin a process that would help thousands across the state who are denied their freedom solely because of their inability to pay.”
Dutchess County demonstrates why cash bail practices are one of the leading drivers of mass incarceration. People who had not yet been to trial accounted for 71 percent of the county’s jail population in 2016. Between 2010 and 2017, 63 percent were there for misdemeanors or violations. They spent an average of 32 days behind bars for misdemeanor offenses and 16 days for mere violations, like disorderly conduct. Between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were detained for one week or more on just $500 bail. Dutchess County’s bail practices have led to overcrowded jails, with defendants jailed in nearby trailers.
“Even a few days in jail, let alone weeks or months, can mean missed home payments and child support, or even evictions and lost jobs,” said Shannon Wong, director of the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Cash bail practices have led to overcrowded jails and upended lives in Dutchess County. Our neighbors, and all New Yorkers deserve a presumption of innocence and equal justice. These consequences impact individuals and families for years afterward.”
The NYCLU suit seeks a ruling that will have the broader impact of ending New York’s widespread practice of jailing the poor solely because of their poverty.
In addition to Desgranges, NYCLU staff on the case include Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg, associate legal director Christopher Dunn, senior staff attorney Molly Kovel, legal fellow Kristen Burzynski, paralegal Maria Rafael, legal investigator Paula Garcia-Salazar, data and policy analyst Michelle Shames, and former intern Nina Monfredo.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is delivering his State of the State Address tomorrow (Wednesday, January 3rd) at 1 pm. (They usually live-stream the speech here: https://www.governor.ny.gov/). The governor’s office has indicated that, as part of his speech, he may announce his plans for bail reform.
The 8th annual Beyond the Bars Conference of the Center for Justice at Columbia University seeks to contribute to the growing movement to close jails and prisons as a part of the larger struggle to end mass incarceration. In particular, we will focus on elevating the efforts led by grassroots organizers that include formerly incarcerated and directly impacted people.
Prison and jail closings have been taking place unevenly throughout the United States over the past decade. However, campaigns like the ones in New York, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee have helped to usher in a new phase, one that highlights the role of grassroots organizing and directly impacted leadership, and that has begun to put forth a more transformative vision of how to close jails and prisons and what comes in their place. Momentum for lasting change is building. Organizers, activists and scholars have been grappling with many of the deeply seeded issues related to incarceration and criminalization. From the movement to close youth prisons entirely, to centering the fight for racial justice, to highlighting the ways that women and lgbtq community are impacted, to focusing on the elderly inside prisons with long sentences that are about punishment not safety, to interrogating the effectiveness of punishment in reducing violence, we are at a moment where we are able to make concrete advances in reducing the carceral footprint.
It is our hope that this conference will bolster these efforts in the following ways:
Convene and support a national network of people and organizations working to close jails and prisons across the country
Help articulate a vision and analysis for closing jails and prisons and what comes in its place
Address and examine some of the difficult issues and questions that arise in the efforts to close jails and prison
Further catalyze university involvement in the struggle to end mass incarceration