Criticism and Self-Criticism in the Struggle Against Jail Expansion: NYC

“We cannot solve our problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Eistein

“We cannot solve our problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

Everyone needs to understand how we got here. Believing that caging and exiling people would produce safety and solve socio-economic problems got us here. So let us not promote more of the same. Three things I’d like everyone to understand:

1. NNJ and JLUSA did not build the cages, pass the draconian laws, arrest people, sentence people, deny people bail, oppress people inside or eliminate funding that would help our communities. They didn’t create the problems. They are two sides promoting different solutions. While we bicker, the real enemy’s boot remains upon the necks of millions. Our energies should be focused on defeating the PIC, not each other.

2. As long as there are cages, there will be suffering. Any solution that entails expanding or building new cages fails to alleviate suffering. In Pennsylvania, until the early 90’s, we had 9 prisons. Today, we have 29- all shiny new cages. We are suffering more today than in 1990. Anyone who claims they want to alleviate prisoners’ suffering , but isn’t for closing and not relocating prisons, is either totally ignorant of the baseline cause our suffering or is lying. I’m for closing Riker’s. And I’m against building new jails in the boroughs. Eliminating prisons/jails ends suffering.

3. As for the suffering of those currently caged, let us remember that most people held in jail are pretrial detainees. Building new cages won’t alleviate their suffering, but doing the following will:

a. Eliminate money bail. Many are stuck in jail because they are poor and cannot post a money bail. How many people would not be at Riker’s if not for their inability to post a money bail? How many cages would he empty?

b. Prohibit Reincarceration for Technical Violators. They are many people sitting in jail for technically violating probation or parole, not for committing or even being accused or a new crime. How many cages would be empty if technical violators weren’t reincarcerated? How much suffering would be alleviated? Today, my niece’s mother, who gave birth to her on April 19, must report to jail to serve a 90 day sentence for a technical violation of her probation. She must leave her newborn and enter a cage and no crime has occurred- at least not by her. The reincarceration of technical violators wrecks havoc on people. It needs to end.

c. Press for speedy trials. Every state and the US Constitution have speedy trial provisions that are routinely ignored by judges and prosecutors, leaving thousands locked in cages. In Pennsylvania, the law says the state has 6 months to bring a person to trial and if it fails to do so, the person, if detained, is to be released upon nominal bail. If the state fails to bring a person to trial in 12 months, the case is to be dismissed. Theoretically, no one should endure more than 6 months of pretrial detention or 12 months of criminal charges hanging over one’s head. In jurisdiction after jurisdiction, speedy trial rules are ignored, leaving people to languish in cages until they are coerced into plea deals. In my own case, I spent 33 months under pretrial detention. In one case, the defendants were caged under pretrial detention for 9 years before the courts recognized their speedy trial violation claims. Pressing the courts to uphold speedy trial rules would empty cages and alleviate suffering.

d. Build strong connections with those inside. Prison is a site of substraction. Prisoners lose freedom, relationships, opportunities and hope. Connecting with us restores relationships, opportunities and hope. Connecting with us enables us to fight for our freedom and transform ourselves. Your support will alleviate suffering on a level that empowers us to fight the PIC.

We have to remember what the ultimate goals are, who the real enemy is and how we got here in the first place.

In Solidarity,


Author: Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

> network of self-organized prison study groups at SCI-FAYETTE > consolidating networks of resistance across the PA DOC system