Dozens gathered in person and virtually in rallies to call on officials to reduce the number of incarcerated people in state prisons and jails.
Organizations gathered to announce the formation of a new coalition: Decarcerate the Hudson Valley.
The coalition, aimed at reducing the number of incarcerated people, gathered at three rallies and online via Zoom on Wednesday morning.
“We envision a world without cages, working together to dismantle systems of criminalization and incarceration locally and across New York state with the understanding that they are built on white supremacy, target Black and brown communities and criminalize poverty,” said Marvin Mayfield, the statewide organizer at the Center for Community Alternatives. “We fight to create alternatives that advance justice and liberation for all and build a world where all of our communities have what they need to thrive.”
The coalition is made up of formerly incarcerated Hudson Valley residents, families with incarcerated loved ones and 27 different community advocacy organizations throughout the Hudson Valley, Mayfield said.
There are more than 13,000 Hudson Valley residents in county jails and in state prisons, according to the coalition, and an additional 4,000 people subject to parole supervision in Hudson Valley communities as of October.
Speakers at the three rallies in Orange, Westchester and Albany counties each talked about racial inequality in the state’s prison system.
“The New York state Legislature needs to return to session immediately and pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, Elder Parole, Fair & Timely Parole, and bring an end the Jim Crow-era voting ban,” said Ashley Radliff, VOCAL-NY Leader. “We need an expansion of bail reform so that people are not being subjected to torturous conditions and increased rates of COVID. Incarceration perpetuates racism, classism and is deadly. Decarcerate the Hudson Valley and New York state now.”
Several speakers Wednesday also noted the treatment of inmates during the COVID outbreak and the impact the virus has had on prison populations.
“We cannot stand by while people languish and die in prison at the hands of the state,” said Noel Casey, community organizer with Release Aging People in Prison. “COVID has made this all the more urgent. Lack of testing, none, or limited PPE (personal protective equipment), social distancing in solitary confinement — this is what is happening inside places like Sing Sing, Fishkill, Bedford, Taconic and all the other prisons across the state. People are getting sick and dying at the hands of the state.”
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported that as of Dec. 8, a total of 1,910 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 in the state prison population, and 1,747 of those have recovered and been released from solitary confinement. Eighteen incarcerated people in the state have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the department’s website.
Local and county governments in the Hudson Valley spend more than $856 million each year on the incarceration system, according to the coalition. This includes nearly $406 million allocated for jails.
This year, New York state released some incarcerated inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year the governor directed the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to use its existing statutory authority to proceed with a number of early release opportunities for incarcerated populations based on individualized reviews. This led to the early release of 3,052 individuals as of Oct. 22, which include 791 individuals who have had their low-level parole violations canceled, 2,254 individuals who were committed on non-violent, non-sex offenses and were within 90 days of their approved release date, and 12 women who were pregnant or postpartum, committed on non-violent, non-sex offenses, and were within 180 days of their approved release date, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
As of Oct. 27, the total incarcerated population in state correctional facilities was 36,076, a total reduction of more than 8,000 individuals since Jan. 1 and the lowest total incarcerated population in New York state prisons since 1986, according to the governor’s office.