Free The People WNY

We Demand Police Reform in Erie County!

For too many years we’ve protested the deathly, inhumane conditions in the Holding Center. We’ve rallied and petitioned and called out Sheriff Howard over and over again and the deaths and neglect and sexual assaults have continued. This year we will elect a new Sheriff but we know that the violence of our County carceral system will remain in place until we hold all our County elected officials accountable for their complicity in funding, maintaining and filing our county jails. The Free the People WNY County Working Group has put together a policy platform calling on the new Sheriff, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County Legislature and District Attorney John Flynn to act on five policy demands to decarcerate Erie County and invest in our communities. 

Our five demands

1. Treat people in County jails like the human beings they are.

For too many years, Erie County has received the disgraceful recognition of having two of the worst jail facilities in the state. A lack of basic medical care and overall neglect of human needs has led to 31 reported deaths since 2005, which does not account for the many overdose deaths that have happened upon release from the jails. Incarcerated people are human beings. The new sheriff must take concrete steps to:

  • Ensure that not one more death by suicide, medical neglect, abuse or any other preventable cause happens in either facility
  • Enforce a zero tolerance policy for any sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct by jail staff
  • Provide comprehensive options for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in either facility to initiate or continue treatment without interruption
  • Provide consistent, high-quality mental and physical health care and ensure a robust intake process to identify needs quickly
  • Ensure that incarcerated people have access to COVID vaccines, social distancing, hygiene supplies and PPE
  • End the use of solitary confinement by any name
  • Cut commissary and phone costs by at least 50%
  • Expand library time, educational programs, religious services and recreation time

Further reading: Prison Policy Initiative, “It’s all about the incentives: Why a call home from a jail in New York State can cost 7 times more than the same call from the state’s prisons”
Paul Ross, WKBW, “NY AG suing Erie County Sheriff for failing to address sex misconduct in correctional facilities”
Katal Center for Equity and Justice, “Addressing Addiction and Preventing Overdose in NY: Providing Medication- Assisted Treatment (MAT) in Jails and Prisons”

2. Cut at least 50% of the Sheriff department budget

County leaders must recognize that the era of mass incarceration is beginning to end. Already both county jail facilities are more empty than they are full, and yet the staffing of both facilities remains the same. County lawmakers must reap the financial benefits of freedom dividends – the cost savings of decarceration – by reallocating Sheriff Department funds to community safety efforts to fund jobs, housing, and community-based mental health programs. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the Erie County Legislature must:

  • Not hire back staff laid off from the Jail Management Division in 2020
  • Cut the Sheriff Department budget by at least 50% in the 2021-2022 budget
  • Use a participatory budgeting process to allocate the over $61 million savings to other community services

Further reading: Vera Institute of Justice, “The Cost of Incarceration in New York State: Erie County Factsheet”

3. Close at least one County jail by 2022

The Jail Management Division has read the writing on the wall and knows that it is increasingly irrelevant as the number of jailed people in Erie County plummets. They have proposed a plan to keep both jail facilities open in order to save their jobs in the carceral system. County leaders must reject this plan and begin the work of completely closing at least one jail facility by the end of 2022. By the end of 2021 the County Legislature must:

  • Publicly commit to closing at least one of the County jail facilities by 2022
  • Hold at least 3 public hearings, administer a survey and solicit public comment on deciding which facility to close first, and how
  • Put together a community-driven public plan for closing a jail in 2022

Further reading: Partnership for the Public Good, “Shrinking Jails, Rising Costs: Erie County’s Wasteful Jail Budget”

4. Stop criminalizing people with unmet needs

County leaders must address ineffective, racially biased criminalizing policies by embracing evidence-based and community-driven solutions. We can not arrest our way out of the overdose crisis and other behavioral health needs. Incarceration, drug courts, and other coercion-based drug treatment is often ineffective, racially disparate, and many times harmful. Non-coercive, community-based harm reduction drug treatment models are often safer and more effective for people who use drugs. Alternative solutions can keep people out of jails and connect them to harm reduction and other health services.

The County Legislature and Sheriff’s Office must:

  • Remove police from mental health response and establish a mobile team of mental health professionals to respond to mental health crises
  • Implement Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to give law enforcement the ability to divert a person into services rather than arresting them for a low-level offense

District Attorney John Flynn must:

  • Stop enforcing low-level drug possession, syringes, & paraphernalia charges
  • Stop prosecuting arrests made at pretextual stops, such as traffic stops for tinted windows or “smell of marijuana”

Further reading: Drug Policy Alliance, “Substance Use Disorder Treatment,”
Fair and Just Prosecution, “21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor”
Vera Institute of Justice & Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, Motion for Justice
Partnership for the Public Good, “Why Buffalo Needs LEAD”

5. Uphold justice for immigrants, regardless of status

All residents of Erie County are valued members of our community and must be treated with respect and dignity. The new Sheriff must commit to protecting the rights and safety of all residents equally, and should disavow racist and xenophobic actions that target immigrant community members. The new Sheriff must publicly commit to:

  • Honor legally binding arrest warrants, but not detainer requests related to immigration status, from federal authorities
  • Refrain for asking about or recording information on immigration status
  • Share information with immigration authorities only to the extent absolutely required by law

Further reading: Center for American Progress, Immigration Enforcement, The Negative Consequences of Entangling Local Policing and Immigration Enforcement

WHAT WE ARE WORKING ON

Erie County Jail Consolidation

The county is proposing to move most prisoners to the Correctional Facility in Alden and use the Holding Center for other, mostly unknown purposes. The proposal is extremely vague, and no opportunity for public input has been offered. There are many things to consider about consolidating the jail population into either facility (Alden or the Holding Center). Should Erie County close one of the jails? Click the link below to fill out a survey and share your thoughts.

HALT Solitary Resolution

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) |

On October 8th the Erie County Legislature passed a resolution supporting the HALT Solitary Confinement Bill. The resolution urged the legislature to pass the bill and the Governor to sign it. The vote was 9-1, with 2 Republicans voting for the resolution. Congratulations to Steve, Jerome, Daryl, Samantha and everyone else who worked on this resolution for the past 3 years! Let’s hope that this momentum will continue into the new year for the final passage of HALT, ending the torture of solitary once and for all.

 

Reimagining Mental Health Crisis Response in Erie County

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) |

On October 8th the Erie County Legislature passed a resolution supporting the HALT Solitary Confinement Bill. The resolution urged the legislature to pass the bill and the Governor to sign it. The vote was 9-1, with 2 Republicans voting for the resolution. Congratulations to Steve, Jerome, Daryl, Samantha and everyone else who worked on this resolution for the past 3 years! Let’s hope that this momentum will continue into the new year for the final passage of HALT, ending the torture of solitary once and for all.

 

Erie County Jail Consolidation

The county is proposing to move most prisoners to the Correctional Facility in Alden and use the Holding Center for other, mostly unknown purposes. The proposal is extremely vague, and no opportunity for public input has been offered. There are many things to consider about consolidating the jail population into either facility (Alden or the Holding Center). Should Erie County close one of the jails? Click the link below to fill out a survey and share your thoughts.

 

HALT Solitary Resolution

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) |

On October 8th the Erie County Legislature passed a resolution supporting the HALT Solitary Confinement Bill. The resolution urged the legislature to pass the bill and the Governor to sign it. The vote was 9-1, with 2 Republicans voting for the resolution. Congratulations to Steve, Jerome, Daryl, Samantha and everyone else who worked on this resolution for the past 3 years! Let’s hope that this momentum will continue into the new year for the final passage of HALT, ending the torture of solitary once and for all.

 

Reimagining Mental Health Crisis Response in Erie County

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) |

On October 8th the Erie County Legislature passed a resolution supporting the HALT Solitary Confinement Bill. The resolution urged the legislature to pass the bill and the Governor to sign it. The vote was 9-1, with 2 Republicans voting for the resolution. Congratulations to Steve, Jerome, Daryl, Samantha and everyone else who worked on this resolution for the past 3 years! Let’s hope that this momentum will continue into the new year for the final passage of HALT, ending the torture of solitary once and for all.

 

Free The People WNY

Free The People is a coalition of activists, organizers, and attorneys that envisions a world free from the violence and death of mass incarceration. We act together to dismantle oppressive laws that dehumanize people for a more fair and equitable society.

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Free The People WNY

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Connect With Us

Free The People is a coalition of activists, organizers, and attorneys that envisions a world free from the violence and death of mass incarceration. We act together to dismantle oppressive laws that dehumanize people for a more fair and equitable society.