Join Decarcerate Tompkins County this Thursday, May 11 at 5:30pm Legislative Chambers, 121 East Court St., Second Floor, in telling the Legislature’s Jail Study Committee NOT ONE MORE JAIL CELL!
There has been a lot of discussion recently about improving health services inside the TC Jail. But we remind communities in Tompkins County that improving jail services were never on the TC Legislature’s agenda until the State Commissioner of Corrections (SCOC) demanded that Tompkins County reduce its jail population or expand the jail. Jail services were never a concern until Tompkins County faced major increases in boarding out costs because the SCOC threatened to pull the County’s variance (i.e. it no longer allowed the county to hold people beyond the jail’s official capacity). Thus, DTC opposes the expansion of services as a backhanded way to justify building more jail cells.
DTC supports physical and mental health care for people inside the TC Jail as well as educational and spiritual programs. But we oppose the idea that the county jail should double as a mental health and detox complex! We reject the Sheriff’s and the Correctional Officers of Tompkins County’s vision that the TC Jail should be new “complex” with 24 hour “treatment.” People with mental health and substance problems should be diverted to services in the community, not be held inside jails.
DTC also opposes the idea that we should expand the jail in order to keep incarcerated people close to their families and local services not offered in other counties. While we are sympathetic to those who want to keep their loved ones close, there are many other ways to address this concern than to expand institutions that have been proven to perpetuate systemic injustices against people of color and poor people. If the legislature is truly concerned about keeping people close to their families and to local services, they could direct judges to release the 74% of people who are awaiting trial or sentencing inside the TC Jail. Like the State of New Jersey, they could work to eliminate bail altogether in NY, which would leave plenty of empty cells inside the TC Jail and no need to expand. Would we have defended the expansion of a slave plantation so that we can keep the enslaved closer to their families or to a more “benevolent” slave master? Those who think that the comparison between plantations and jail cells is uncalled for should talk to formerly incarcerated people, read The New Jim Crow, or watch the documentary 13th.
We continue to insist that the TC Legislature can be at the forefront of investing in community-based alternatives to incarceration programs like the Ultimate Re-Entry (URO) initiative, can work to eliminate bail locally, and create diversion programs for people with mental health and substance problems. Build communities, not jails!