Hawkins Says Overhaul of Criminal Justice System, End of War on Drugs, Would Help Solve State's Budget Deficit

Howie Hawkins - Green for Governor

Media Release
www.howiehawkins.org
www.gpny.org

For Release: July 13, 2010

For More Info:
Howie Hawkins, 315 425-1019
Mark Dunlea 518 860-3725

Urges Legislature to Ensure that Inmates Counted as Residents of their Home Communities

 

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, said that overhauling the state's criminal justice system by ending the war on drugs would help reduce the state's budget deficit while helping to rebuild communities of color.

 

Hawkins also urged state legislators to adopt legislation to count prison inmates for census purposes as living in their home communities rather than their places of incarceration.

 

"Our criminal justice system has become our new Jim Crow system, discriminating against and oppressing people of color. The War on Drugs, our policy of mass incarceration, the Prison Industrial Complex, the loss of industrial jobs, globalization, and racism have come together to form the perfect storm - trapping Black males in a caste system that disenfranchises the Black community politically and economically in ways quite similar to Jim Crow America in the early 20th Century. Few are recognizing the cumulative effect of mass incarceration and poor education on the lives of those caught up in the criminal justice system, their families, and their communities," said Hawkins.

 

Hawkins said that the war on drugs has been used to support the growing prison industrial complex in America, now by far the largest in the world. State Republicans have pushed for more prisons in upstate New York as economic development; both Democratic Governors Cuomo and Paterson have been willing to trade prisons for other budget concessions.

 

Hawkins said that the growing prison population has also been used by the Republicans to enable them to maintain control of the State Senate, allowing them to shift population counts to upstate districts where many downstate individuals of color are incarcerated. Hawkins noted that such counties often exclude the prison population when determining how to allocate seats for local offices but use the prisoners to increase their representation in state and national elections.

 

Counting 44,000 mostly Black and Latino residents of New York City as residents of upstate prison towns has had a staggering impact on democracy in New York, at both the state, and county levels. Most of the state's prisoners (66%) are New York City residents, but the vast majority of them (91%) are counted as residents of upstate prisons.

 

Hawkins also supports voting rights for incarcerated felons, like Vermont and Maine do, instead of restoring voting rights after they get off parole, which is NY's current law. "Voting and political participation should be part of the rehabilitative process of reintegrating felons into society, not another barrier that alienates them further. When I petition in Syracuse, which has so many men and women who've lost they're voting rights (or think they've lost them because of a conviction), the sense of alienation and disgust with politics is palpable. This disenfranchisement of a significant proportion of the Black and Latino communities today replicates how the Jim Crow South disenfranchised the black community in the past," added Hawkins.

 

In the past 10 years, New York's adult prison inmate population has dropped by over 13,000 people, but the state has only reduced its capacity by 2,250 beds. There are still over 6,300 empty prison beds being funded by taxpayers-wasting millions of dollars each year. The state should take additional steps to substantially lower the number of people it incarcerates by closing additional underutilized prisons and expanding work release programs, graduated sanctions for technical parole violators, and merit-time eligibility.

 

Hawkins supports the Domestic Violence (DV) Survivors Justice Act to expand judicial discretion and permit judges to sentence DV survivors convicted of crimes committed as a result of abuse to shorter prison terms and, in some cases, alternative to incarceration programs. The bill will also allow survivors currently in prison to petition the court for resentencing and require the parole board to consider the effects of domestic violence when making release decisions. Domestic violence and women's pathways to prison are inextricably linked: an estimated 82% of incarcerated women in New York were severely physically and/or sexually abused as children and 75% suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner during adulthood.

 

Hawkins said that the state's drug laws needed to be dramatically overhauled to focus on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and public safety. Hawkins supports reforming re-entry policies to focus on helping individuals get into decent paying jobs and educational programs that can help them gain entry into society. Most of the present programs are law enforcement oriented, concerned with social control, maintaining the status quo, and the development of a sub-class of people thrown together by their conviction record.

 

Hawkins added that he supports the ReDirect NY proposal which has passed the State Senate to provide fiscal incentives for localities to expand their use of alternative programs for youth. Community-based alternative-to-detention programs have succeeded in increasing positive life outcomes and significantly decreasing recidivism rates for court-involved young people. Hawkins also supports the Correctional Association's campaign advocating for the closure of dangerous and under-utilized facilities for youth, beginning with New York City defunding the notorious Spofford Juvenile Center, also known as "Bridges." Expanded diversion initiatives would reduce the need for secure detention and allow the City to close the facility without any increased risk to public safety.

 

"The 'war on drugs' has turned into a war on young people, the poor, and African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color. My opponents in the Democratic and Republican parties ignore the human and economic devastation in many communities caused by the war on drugs. Instead, the two major parties posture about law and order and endorse failed measures, wasting tax dollars, ruining lives and increasing violence in our neighborhoods. We need to stop spending $50 billion a year nationally on the drug war, and use that money for treatment and rebuilding poor communities of color," said Hawkins.

 

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union ("Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law," October 2006) found that 37% of people arrested, 59% of people convicted, and 74% of those sent to prison are African American, even though only 15% of drug users are African American.

Thousands of New Yorkers annually are arrested for small amounts of marijuana possession, even though the possession of two ounces of marijuana was decriminalized in New York more than three decades ago following the arrests of students in the Syracuse area. The rate of incarceration for marijuana offenses in New York for blacks is nearly 3.8 times that of whites. In some communities like Syracuse, the rate is nearly ten times that of whites.

 

"Law enforcement should focus efforts on organized crime, including the laundering of drug money at banks, rather than on street-level drug trade, in which kids who get arrested -- or killed -- are quickly replaced," said Hawkins. "Addictive use should be treated as a medical and social problem. Locking up addicts in stressed prison environments, with minimal effort to address the addiction itself, and then freeing them to go back into the same circumstances that led to their abuse of drugs has only aggravated the problem of addiction. We need rational solutions to the problems of drug abuse that are based on science and health, compassion for addicts and their families, reduction of harm rather than moral judgment, and respect for basic civil liberties and principles of justice."

 

Hawkins has been a long time advocate of repealing - not merely reforming - New York's notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws, something he championed along with Al "Grandpa" Lewis in 1998, leading to the Drop the Rock movement. The Correctional Association and other advocates point out that 80 percent of the drug offenders incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug laws are non-violent offenders and 90 percent are African American and Latino. Reform supporters estimate that more than $200 million could be saved through changes in the draconian laws.

 

"This country has had almost a century of drug prohibition, four decades of the war on drugs, yet there are more drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before and we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on interdiction alone. Those who insist on a continuation of 21st century Prohibition are agreeing that both production and distribution of drugs be left in control of criminals, funding terrorists and cartels. Drug use should be handled as a public health issue, not one of crime. It is time to legalize, regulate, and tax so-called recreational drugs, like we do alcohol and tobacco. The European countries that have tried this approach have virtually eliminated drug-related crimes and reduced the population of drug users," concluded Hawkins.

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