On Wednesday May 10th, community members and advocates from around the state gathered in Albany for a day of advocacy and action on prison and parole justice. As part of the day, a group of clergy and faith leaders delivered a letter endorsing the Challenging Incarceration platform, a holistic and comprehensive approach towards the radical transformation of the criminal justice system in New York. Some photos of the delivery press conference, as well as the larger rally and march are below, along with the press release for the letter delivery and some other press coverage of the day.
Clergy & Faith Leaders Join Community Groups and Advocates Calling for Prison and Parole Justice
Albany - A group of clergy and faith leaders delivered a letter signed by more than one hundred and fifty of their colleagues around the state, supporting the ‘Challenging Incarceration’ platform, a multi-issue and comprehensive criminal justice platform developed by grassroots prison justice groups.
“Our incarceration system is racist and cruel. It’s racist because nearly half of our prison inmates are black, despite making up only 16% of New York’s population. We also have 4,000 inmates in solitary confinement. Some are in there for weeks, months, even years at a time. That’s egregious torture,” said Robb Smith, a Lay Community Minister and Executive Director of Interfaith Impact of NYS. “We need to restructure our approach to crime and criminals, find humane alternatives to long term solitary confinement, and put the brakes on a system that unfairly incarcerates people of color at outrageously disproportionate rates.”
The Challenging Incarceration Platform, developed in 2016, includes various prison justice concerns including active bills, such as the HALT Solitary Confinement Act and SAFE Parole Act, as well as broader goals, such as ending structural racism and ensuring a focus on marginalized and disproportionately harmed groups.
“The incarceration system in the United States, the largest in the world, is seriously broken. Racial and class disparities within the criminal justice system are pervasive, including here in New York,” said Barbara Zaron, of Reform Jewish Voice. “All throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the call of God is for repentance and restoration, and our current system pursues punishment, not rehabilitation. A moral justice system will provide services, support, education, and re-entry opportunities for those in prison. This is not beyond our ability as a society.”
In December, the New York Times released several reports detailing pervasive and systemic racial disparities and abuse within prisons and parole. Shortly after, Governor Cuomo ordered an investigation into racial bias within New York prisons, which has yet to be released.
Victorio Reyes of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network said, “We weren’t surprised when late last year the New York Times exposed the extent of the racism and violence in the New York prison system. It’s something well-known to family members, prisoners, and former prisoners. Governor Cuomo vowed to do something about it, and we’re here to let him, and other legislative leaders know, that we won’t rest until this horror is ended.”
Rev. Charles Daniel, of Mt Calvary Baptist Church in Albany said, “The God I worship is one of liberation. From Yahweh’s demand to ‘Let My People Go’, to Jesus proclaiming freedom for captives, our faith traditions are the stories of God’s action on behalf of the oppressed. Our current incarceration system, with it’s racism, torture, and abuse, is a moral travesty, offensive to people of conscience and an affront to God. As people of faith and conscience, we stand with the prophets of yesterday and today, demanding an end to this injustice.”
After delivering the signed letters, the group joined a larger rally of advocates for parole and prison justice at West Capitol Park.