Press Statement: Directly impacted communities, grassroots organizations & the #FREEnewyork campaign call on the Erie County Legislature and New York State to end the jail crisis

July 23, 2018

Press Statement: Directly impacted communities, grassroots organizations & the #FREEnewyork campaign call on the Erie County Legislature and New York State to end the jail crisis

On July 19, 2018 the New York State Commission of Correction’s Medical Review Board found that India Cumming’s death in the Erie County Holding Center “should be ruled as a homicide due to medical neglect” in a report issued on June 26 and made public by the Buffalo News on July 16.  The state review board declared unequivocally, “The medical and mental health care provided to Cummings by Erie County during the course of incarceration, and her care, custody and safekeeping by Erie County sheriff deputies was so grossly incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.”

In response the #FREEnewyork Buffalo Coalition released the following statement:

In 2016, India Cummings died in the Erie County Holding Center. She is one of 24 people who have lost their lives in an Erie County jail since 2005 when Sheriff Howard took office. She is one of many more who have lost their lives in county jails across the state.

New York’s jails are deadly. According to the Bureau of Justice, 471 New Yorkers died in county jails between 2000 and 2014. The State Commission on Correction has found “gross incompetence” to have cost the lives of people from Nassau to Onondaga.

Money bail and mass pretrial incarceration are killing us. In Erie County, 1,200 people languish behind bars daily. The vast majority – 64% – are legally innocent. They have not been convicted, but remain caged because of a money bail system that criminalizes working-class people and communities of color. Unable to afford a $15,000 bail, India Cummings spent 17 days incarcerated pretrial, ultimately losing her life. Even for those who survive, pretrial incarceration has costs. Trapped in a system of wealth-based incarceration, Erie county residents and New Yorkers across the state lose their jobs, their homes, and their children. Without money for bail, low-income people are treated as guilty until proven innocent.

As directly impacted people, grassroots organizations and advocacy groups, we call on New York’s elected officials to end the jail crisis. Locally, we renew our call to reduce arrests through alternative responses to low-level offenses, such as “fix-it tickets,” Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), and mandatory community policing in the city of Buffalo. To reduce the harmful impacts of unnecessary pretrial detention in our communities, we call on Erie County District Attorney John Flynn to issue a written directive instructing his assistant district attorneys to not request money bail for misdemeanor and non-serious felony offenses. At the state level, Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature must pass transformative bail reform that decarcerates jails, eliminates money bail, protects the presumption of innocence, and guarantees due process. The lives of our neighbors and loved ones are at stake. New York can, and must, do better.

Quotes

“In February, the Commission of Correction deemed the Erie County Holding Center one of the five ‘worst offenders’ out of the state’s 74 correctional facilities. The Medical Review Board’s report–and the shocking details of India Cumming’s final days–once again confirm the seriousness of our Holding Center’s repeated violations of state law and failure to guarantee safety,” said Partnership for the Public Good. “The inhumane treatment of India Cummings demonstrates the most tragic outcome of unaffordable money bail and pretrial detention. We continue to call for an end to money bail, to reduce pretrial detention and help end mass incarceration. This must happen alongside reforms that keep more people out of the criminal justice system in the first place, such as alternatives to arrest and public health responses to poverty, mental health, and substance use.”

“Open Buffalo reaffirms the need to end the criminalization and inhumane incarceration of the poor and people of color,” said OPEN Buffalo. “India Cummings was clearly in need of medical attention and our system of pretrial detention and money bail contributed to her being denied access to critical medical and mental health treatment that could have preserved her life.”

“What we need are county legislators who are working to fix the egregious issues at our jails and hold those responsible accountable,” said Black Love Resists in the Rust. “Sheriff Howard is incapable of running facilities without the intervention of the Department of Justice; Howard should resign. $400K will not improve the conditions, change the culture of neglect, or prevent the 24 individuals, including India Cummings, from being killed at the Holding Center and the jail.”

“The treatment of India Cummings was inhuman, and hundreds of people are still subject to the same horrifying treatment inside the Holding Center right now,” said Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Buffalo. “With less than 24 hours notice, over 75 people came together in front of the Holding Center on Thursday to demand justice for India and accountability from Sheriff Howard for the deplorable conditions and gross negligence in his jails. We call on County Executive Mark Poloncarz, DA John Flynn, and legislature chair Pete Savage to take the actions recommended in the Commission’s report. Members of SURJ Buffalo believe in the humanity of those inside the Holding Center and call on our communities not to sit on the sidelines in the face of a system that criminalizes Black, Brown, and poor folks.”

“Every year, New York invests millions of dollars in jailing people based solely on the accusation – not evidence – put forth by police and prosecutors. New York’s pretrial system, bail practices and discovery and speedy trial laws violate Constitutional rights and subject legally innocent people to the torture of incarceration. Jailing has devastating impacts on the lives of people who are incarcerated and those families. In the worst cases – such as the case of India Cummings – the result is death,” said JustLeadershipUSA. We know that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration – as well as its consequences. Governor Cuomo and New York States’ elected officials owe it to the people of Erie County and New Yorkers across the state to end the jail crisis by overhauling bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws in 2019 to eliminate money bail, and end wealth and race-based mass jailing. The #FREEnewyork campaign, our statewide partners, leaders and allies will continue to organize our communities and hold New York State accountable to the life-saving legislative reforms that our communities urgently need and deserve.”

“The Commission on Correction’s Medical Review Board has shown what we all know: in Erie County jails, egregious violations of human rights are commonplace, said Western NY Peace Center and the Interfaith Peace Network. “Locally, the Sheriff’s office must be held accountable. But statewide, we must also transform the injustices of a pretrial system that subjected India Cummings to incarceration in the first place. Our neighbors and loved ones must not be incarcerated pretrial on bail they cannot afford.”