Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community and to be treated equally under the law. But right now we have a justice system designed to target and criminalize communities of color and the poor. We need a new system.
For decades, politicians have sought to win votes by campaigning on ‘tough-on-crime’ platforms and stoking racial fear and resentment. The billions of dollars our country and the state of New York have spent on disproportionately policing and locking up poor people of color have not made anyone any safer.
When black and brown kids are charged and arrested for petty, ‘quality-of-life’ crimes while white bankers on Wall Street get away with destroying our whole economy, there is something deeply wrong.
If New York were a country, we would have the sixth highest incarceration rate in the world — ahead of Russia.
Right now, New York State spends $22,000 per child for a year of public school, while we spend $70,000 per prisoner, 75% of whom are people of color. New York City spends nearly $118,000 per person per year in city jails, nearly 90% of whom are people of color. Tuition for a full time student at CUNY and SUNY costs about $6,500 and $21,000 respectively.
Imagine what we could do with that money if we were to lift people up rather than lock them up.
While closing Rikers and other jails and prisons across the state is a critical first step, true justice reform must also prioritize decarceration, decriminalization and targeted reinvestment in communities that have been devastated by a biased and unrelenting criminal justice system. Every step in the justice system is set up against the poor and people of color.
Mass incarceration has torn families apart and decreased the resources our state could be using to actually keep people safe. It’s clear that New York must invest in our schools, not jails. We need money for jobs, housing and education, not jails and incarceration.
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