‘Communities Not Cages’ is a statewide campaign that demands lawmakers ‘eliminate mandatory minimums, end extreme sentencing, support transformation, and bring our loved ones home’
On Tuesday, advocates, the directly impacted, and organizers gathered at the Martha Mitchell Community Center on Buffalo's east side to kick off the first “Communities Not Cages” town hall in the state. Hosted by the Partnership for the Public Good (PPG), VOICE Buffalo, and Free the People WNY, the event also included panelists from the #HALTsolitary campaign and Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP).
“Communities Not Cages” organizers call it “a statewide campaign building the power of people and families impacted by mass incarceration to overhaul New York's racist and draconian sentencing laws. Over the past half-century, New York's sentencing laws have driven the mass incarceration crisis. In this state, 98% of convictions come through plea deals, not a trial. Over 30,000 people are incarcerated in state prisons every day, and nearly 75% of New Yorkers incarcerated are Black or brown.”
VOICE Buffalo Executive Director said Rev. Denise Walden-Glenn said, "We can no longer call ourselves the 'land of the free' when mass incarceration is the new slavery, and systemic oppression ransacks our families like fugitive slave hunters from the 1800s. It's time to stop believing the lies of rehabilitation and push an evidence-based strategy for sentencing reform and restorative justice for all. This is why VOICE Buffalo stands with ‘Communities Not Cages’ and the importance of the bills it proposes."
Over the past year, “Communities Not Cages” coalition members, leaders and partners drafted three bills to overhaul this system: the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act (S7871/A9166), Second Look Act (S7872/A8894), and Earned Time Act (S7873A/A8462B).
Jerome Wright, Co-Director of the #HALTsolitary campaign, said, "It's important that our communities have input, decision-making authority, and restorative power to constructively address criminal justice. Nothing about us without us is for us! That's what ‘Communities Not Cages’ (is).”
"There is no restoration in systems that profit off of caging people," said Tanvier Peart, director of policy advancement at the Partnership for the Public Good. "If we're going to address root causes and intergenerational trauma, we must pivot from spending billions on a carceral state that does not reduce harm or recidivism. Mass incarceration continues to devastate our communities. If we want to invest in justice, healing and safety, we must pass critical legislation that ends excessive and unjust sentencing, and restores communities devastated by over-policing and over-prosecution."
Miles Gresham is a PPG Policy Fellow and former public defender. A press release said he “witnessed firsthand the effects of excessive sentences that grant outsized power to prosecutors to coerce guilty pleas.”
"We have 50 years of data showing that prison sentences have gotten longer due to the increased criminalization of nonviolent drug offenses,” Gresham said. “Black and Latinx people are targeted for arrest and conviction at far higher rates than their white counterparts in New York state and across the country. These discriminatory policies caused irreparable harm to individuals, families and communities. If enacted, the three bills supported by ‘Communities Not Cages’ represent the first small steps in addressing the damage done by decades of failed, racist policies."
More town halls are schedule to take place across the state ahead of the April 26 “Communities Not Cages” advocacy day in Albany. For more information about the campaign, visit www.communitiesnotcagesny.org.