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Bill to Expand the State Commission of Correction (A5709A) Advances through the Assembly’s Correction Committee

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Contact: Yonah Zeitz, yonah@katalcenter.org • 347-201-2769

Follow on Twitter/X @KatalCenter • #ShutRikers #CutShutInvestNY

Bill to Expand the State Commission of Correction (A5709A) Advances through the Assembly’s Correction Committee

Momentum Builds for Passage of Legislation to Strengthen Key Oversight Body for Jails Across New York

Albany, NY:  Today, the New York State Assembly Committee on Correction voted to favorably advance A5709A (Gallagher), which expands the number of members on the State Commission of Correction and codifies the manner of confirmation of such members to diversify the commission. This is an important step to strengthen the Commission’s capacity to fulfill its constitutional mandate: to ensure that state prisons and local jails are “safe, stable, and humane.”

The State Senate has already taken action on the bill – on May 6th, the bill in the measure passed out of the Senate’s Crime, Crime Victims, and Correction Committee, and it now is in the Finance Committee. 

Movement in the legislature follows investigative reports by New York Focus and advocacy by community groups and directed impacted community members who have demanded that Albany do more to address the various crises unfolding in city jails across the state, including the deadly Rikers Island Jail Complex. 

This legislation will expand the number of commissioners from three to nine and distribute appointments among the Governor, the Senate, the Assembly, and the Correctional Association of New York. The appointment requirements would guarantee a diversity of backgrounds, including in public health, behavioral healthcare, prisoner’s rights litigation, and personal experiences of incarceration, thereby enhancing the quality of the commission’s oversight capabilities.

Quotes from elected officials, community groups, and impacted community members: 

Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: “With today’s approval of our legislation by the Assembly Committee on Correction, we are one step closer to reforming the oversight and accountability of carceral facilities across New York. The State Commission of Correction can be an important body for ensuring the humane treatment and dignified conditions for everyone who works or is incarcerated in prisons and jails—but only if we reshape its composition and responsibilities. I am grateful for the Chair Dilan and his committee for advancing this important measure and look forward to its passage by the full Assembly.”

Senator Julia Salazar, Chair of the Committee on Crime, Crime Victims, and Correction, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: “I am thrilled to see this important bill moving closer to becoming law. Given SCOC’s charter to oversee and regulate correctional facilities throughout New York, the Commission’s appointments must come from more than just the Executive Branch. What’s more, SCOC needs expertise beyond correctional administration alone. The new SCOC would add a total of six appointments from the Senate, Assembly, and Correctional Association of New York, the state-chartered, independent non-profit that has been inspecting New York state prisons since the 1840s. And these new appointees would offer essential professional experience in public health, behavioral healthcare, and indigent defense—as well as the perspective of formerly incarcerated people. Now is the time to get this bill across the finish line, and we have momentum on our side.”

Statement from Yonah Zeitz, Advocacy Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice:  “Right now, the conditions in many jails across the state, including Rikers Island, are dire and life-threatening for incarcerated people and staff. The State Commission of Correction (SCOC) has a constitutional mandate to ensure that local jails across the state are ‘safe and humane.’ Yet, practically every day, in jails from Buffalo to Suffolk County and everywhere in between, another horrific scandal, extraordinary problems, and life-threatening conditions emerge. Many of these problems should be addressed by the SCOC, but as investigative reports have shown, too often problems persist for years with no resolution.

New York needs and deserves an effective independent watchdog for its jails and prisons. The SCOC was initially established with this mandate, and it’s time to bring it back to fulfilling its purpose. That’s why we are glad to see A5709A pass out of the Assembly Correction Committee today. This is a necessary step to revamp and fix the State Commission of Correction, and we thank the members who voted to advance this legislation. 

Communities impacted by deadly jails in New York, including our members at Katal, know how urgent the problems are in jails across the state. We urge the Assembly and Senate to pass this proposal immediately and send it to the governor for her signature.” 

Tawana Harris, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “There are so many individuals detained in jails and prisons that have or currently are being mistreated and exposed to inhumane conditions. This should not be the case, and they, like all of us, deserve basic human rights. Their families also deserve peace of mind so that their loved ones are not being hurt. As a mother of a son who has been incarcerated at Rikers and has endured horrific brutality at the hands of correctional officers, I am fighting for his safety. The legislation to expand the States Commission of Correction ( S.5877A / A. 5709A) is a necessary step to keep people safe who are detained in a state correctional facility and local jails. They have the power to ensure that the constitutional rights of people detained are being protected, and if they aren’t, they can mandate reform or shut down the facility. This is needed with Rikers Island, which for decades has violated people’s basic rights and must be shut down. I am beyond happy that the Assembly moved this legislation forward. I know the fight is not over and urge that the legislature pass this bill and that the Governor signs it into law.”

Lah Franklin, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice: “It is unconscionable to think that a place like Rikers Island can exist in the State of New York. Yet it does, and since Mayor Eric Adams took office, there have been at least 31 incarcerated people who have passed away in NYC jails. The death toll is alarming and should send a wave of shock across the state—a shock to push all our legislators into action to stop this humanitarian crisis. The legislation to expand and bolster the State Commission of Correction (S.5877A / A. 5709A) gives the state the opportunity to address the crisis unfolding at Rikers. This legislation will allow for the expansion of the State Commission of Corrections from three to six members and require them to have backgrounds in behavioral health, prisoners’ rights litigation, and formerly incarcerated. It will diversify the commission to reduce bias and increase their ability to hold these facilities accountable. They have the power to shut down state correctional facilities that are not keeping people detained in human conditions like what is happening at Rikers. It is a great moment that the Assembly has moved the bill out of the corrections committee, and now the legislature must swiftly put it on the floor for a vote!”

Stephan Poole, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice: “For decades, New York state prisons and local jails have not protected the constitutional human rights of incarcerated individuals. In NYC, we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis, where people detained at Rikers Island are at risk of losing their lives because of the life-threatening conditions. We need a State Commission of Correction that will take immediate action to address issues plaguing all jails and prisons and close them if they fail to keep people safe. It is of the utmost importance to increase and diversify the number of members of the State Commission of Correction to reduce bias. Appointing individuals outside the spectrum of law enforcement will allow for more compassion and a wider understanding of what is needed to keep incarcerated people safe. I am grateful that the Senate and now the Assembly have acted with urgency to move forward S.5877A / A.5709A! With just a week left in the legislative session, the legislature must put this bill on the floor for a vote and pass it!”

Anthony Maund, Leader of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice: “While I was incarcerated at a state Correctional Facility, I got to experience first-hand the inhumane conditions that exist in jails and prisons across New York. I have had many situations where a correctional officer has been extremely heavy-handed and used physical force on me. I have filed grievances for these cases that were never heard and there was no type of accountability. These are a few of the horrible conditions that many others experience while incarcerated in NYS, and it is not right. It is time for the dormant State Commission of Corrections to be bolstered to fulfill its purpose of ensuring that all these facilities are humane and do not violate people’s constitutional rights. I am thankful that A5709A has made it out of the Assembly Correction Committee. The legislature must immediately pass this legislation, and Governor Hochul should swiftly sign it into law.”

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