March 18, 2020
Attn: Offices of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Cuomo
RE: The health hazards of rolling back bail reform
I write to you today to shed light on the devastating health consequences that would be unleashed on incarcerated people if New York rolled back bail reform, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
New York is facing an unprecedented health crisis, one that has the potential to harm millions of people. People who are incarcerated are particularly at risk. In these facilities, there is no realistic way to practice social distancing. Prisoners are constantly in close proximity. Shockingly, even though incarcerated people in New York have been tasked with making hand sanitizer for the city, they may be prohibited from using it.
So coronavirus can spread incredibly quickly — far before proper testing and treatment can be administered. That threatens the health of all prisoners, but especially older and immunocompromised individuals.
Not only could an outbreak infect and kill hundreds of incarcerated individuals — who are mostly Black and brown New Yorkers — but their visitors and correctional staff are at risk, too. A Department of Corrections investigations officer has already passed away from the disease. While the investigator had little contact with people in custody, this tragic event shows how easily the disease could infiltrate facilities.
Fearing a coronavirus outbreak, some jails and prisons across the country are already releasing people. Yet New York might throw more people in jail by rolling back bail reform.
It’s ridiculous in itself that lawmakers would consider increasing our jail population during the coronavirus crisis. But it’s also been widely proven that mass incarceration, regardless of any pressing health issues, is disastrous for personal well-being. Infectious diseases — like the common cold, the flu, tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis — often spread quickly in prison, and disproportionately affect people of color.
For the well-being of incarcerated people, we ask that you not include provisions in the State’s budget that add more discretion to judges, or any algorithm-based risk assessment tools in criminal justice reform, as these will increase our prison population and increase the risk of more individuals hurt by decades of mass incarceration.
President & CEO of JustLeadershipUSA
1900 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10035