2015 Marks the Beginning of the End of the Era of Mass Incarceration
Recent Policy.Mic article highlights the ways in which we have seen the beginning to the end of mass incarceration in 2015. The writer argues that in this past year year “the Black Lives Matter movement matured into a powerful social movement capable of unilaterally reshaping the policy platforms of presidential candidates. It was this year President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. It was this year lawmakers in Congress unveiled bipartisan legislation to begin unraveling the harsh sentencing practices developed over the course of the late 20th century that played an essential role in making the United States the most aggressive incarcerator in the world. It was this year that conservative megabillionaires joined forces with hardcore leftists in calling for a fundamental change to the status quo on incarceration”. To read how these significant changes are leading to “a sea of change in incarceration policy”, click here.
The End to Solitary Confinement?
As a result of a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over the treatment of inmates in solitary confinement in the prisons, New York has agreed to a $62 million settlement to overhaul the system. “The changes are expected to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement by at least a quarter and usher in a range of reforms, including limiting the time served to three months in most cases and providing the prisoners with certain privileges, like monthly phone calls and group recreation”. To read more about the specifics of the agreement, see this New York Times article.
(Source: Solitary Watch)
But as Alphonso B. David, Governor Cuomo’s chief counsel stated in the previous article, this settlement agreement, (which still needs to be approved by Judge Scheindlin) is symbolic – there is potential that it will have a significant impact on the prison system but not a guarantee. Advocates to end the use of solitary confinement through significant and direct reform measures include the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC). A recent Solitary Watch article explains that “the largely celebratory tone of the announcements and press coverage may lead all of the people in long-term solitary to mistakenly expect that their ordeals will soon be over, and the public to believe that the struggle to end prolonged prison isolation in New York has now been won…there is acknowledgement that the changes the settlement brings are incremental changes. While the agreement begins to address the underlying paradigm of punishment and control through isolation that has been liberally practiced in New York for decades, it does not destroy or replace it. And even when all its provisions are implemented, thousands of people are likely to remain in solitary, some for years or decades”.
If you would like to get involved and learn more about upcoming CAIC activities, click here.
Raise the Age Updates
With a week left in 2015, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that “directed the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to remove minors from adult prisons and put them in their own special facilities, an action he promised to take after his Raise the Age proposal did not pass during the legislative session”. As a result,”medium security Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County will be transformed to house minors, with the first group of young inmates moving in by August of next year. They will include all medium and minimum security males and all female inmates…Maximum security classified male youth inmates will be housed in a separate juvenile unit at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility”. To view the actual executive order and read more details, see here.
(Hudson Correctional Facility, Source: Prisonpublicmemory.us)
Cuomo also announced that he would “pardon anyone who was found guilty of a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor that was committed while they were 16 or 17, provided they have spent at least a decade without any additional convictions”. The pardons however would not expunge a person’s criminal record but will provide “legal relief” for any negative collateral consequences of a conviction. Read more.
Despite Cuomo’s proactive approach to juvenile justice, real reform to raise the age of criminal responsibility requires action on the part our Legislature. The Governor should not be exempt from taking responsibility for his part in the continuation of practices that criminalize our youth, however. According to Politico, in a press release, “the Correctional Association said it was “disappointed” and “dismayed” at Cuomo’s decision to remove minors from the state’s prison system but to keep them under the supervision of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision”.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is the subject of an investigation into the internal corruption in their investigation unit. According to this Times-Union article, “the internal affairs unit that investigates misconduct and abuse in state prisons was for years mired in cover-ups, nepotism and unbridled sexual harassment, and investigators who questioned or reported the problems faced threats of retaliation, including being returned to their prison-guard jobs and marked as “rats”.
“The allegations are outlined in court records and investigative reports gathered by the office of state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, and were buttressed by interviews the Times Union conducted over the past year with current and former employees at the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.”
Cuomo Proposes Higher-Education Initiative in NY Prisons
(Albert C. Wagner Correctional Facility, Source: Princetoninfo.com)
Governor Cuomo plans on announcing his new set of justice proposals at the upcoming State of the State address. These proposals include:
- expand higher education programs in prison by a third
- improve programs so that credits acquired in prison can be transferred to outside colleges
- an agreement to stop making some juvenile criminal records available for purchase
- allocate an additional $50 million to an existing jobs program for at-risk youth, as well as more money to alternative to incarceration programs
Read more about Cuomo’s higher education initiative in this New York Times article.
J-RIP Expanded Despite Lack of Success
The New York Police Department and City Council have continued to fund and expand the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, which aims to stop robberies before they happen by intervening in the lives of some youth offenders. This program has been found to have no effect on stopping robberies however, as shown in a report that “studied arrest patterns over several years among teenagers in the program and comparable teens outside of it”. The NYPD insist that the program’s value lies in its ability to improve police-community relations. Learn more, here.