Jailbreak! is a digest of NYC-anchored prison abolition ideas, updates, and events. If you're just joining, Jailbreak! is produced by the Abolition Action Group (AAG), which emerged in 2019 out of a NYC-DSA Socialist Feminists reading group. You can reach AAG or request to join our listserv here, learn about our other projects and organize with us in the #abolitionaction and #jailbreak Slack channels here, and submit events and article/art pitches for future issues here.
What's Going on With Bail Reform? by Erin S.
In January 2020, New York State eliminated cash bail for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
Even before the new laws took effect, police, prosecutors, state legislators, and the news media began a campaign of fear-mongering, arguing that the reforms would allow violent offenders back on the street and make communities less safe—pro-carceral forces using tactics alarmingly similar to George H.W. Bush’s now-infamous Willie Horton ad.
Less than a week into the reform, Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Andrew Cuomo made public statements that the new law would have to be changed. Mayor Bill DeBlasio followed suit in early February.
On February 12, 2020, Democratic state senators announced a compromise plan that would significantly undermine the reform—the goal of which is to ensure that no one would remain in jail for the sole reason that they couldn’t afford to post bail, while those who can afford it are freed.
Bail reform and prison abolition
For those of us who are committed not only to reforming the most glaringly unjust elements of our criminal legal system, but also to moving towards the complete abolition of the U.S.’s prison and jail system, New York’s bail reform might seem to only nibble around the edges of the problem. Prominent prison abolitionists like Angela Davis have rightly argued that certain reforms can serve to bolster the prison system by making it appear more humane. All the same, we have to support the types of reforms that actively remove people from the system. New York’s partial elimination of cash bail does just that—it ensures that everyday thousands of New Yorkers go back into their communities, where they can keep their jobs, their families, their health care and, of course, their lives. It also forces New York to invest in alternatives to jail including housing, education, and mental health care, building the infrastructure that we will need as activists continue to push for abolition.
The elimination of cash bail is a small, small step on the path to prison abolition, but if we let our politicians get away with undoing this step just weeks after it went into effect, it will be a huge loss to the people of color being arrested in New York each and every day, but also to the movement more broadly. Eliminating cash bail would fuel our intervention in the circular logic of prisons and profits, which manifests everywhere from charging people to read to exploiting their labor.
On February 26, protestors rallied in Albany to protest the rollback. Of the $75,000 bail that kept him in Rikers for 18 months for a crime he did not commit, Darryl Herring told The Appeal, "that was a ransom. That wasn’t a bail. There was no way of me coming up with $75,000."
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Soundbites for Skeptics
"We will. And many of us already do, or have been for years. It's true that this work is scary and hard and demands a lot of us; it demands that we learn new skills and patience and compassion and courage. But if you've ever confronted a friend about how they put down their partner in public, asked an ex to change a hurtful behavior, or explained a boundary you need with your parents...you're on your way. Transformative justice asks a lot of us. Luckily, it also gives a lot back to us, including the time/energy spent in pointless jobs fighting to survive, or navigating more oppressive systems."
"It may be tempting to believe professionals like social workers and psychologists should lead healing and accountability processes in an abolitionist future. While these people can help, it's important that they not hold authoritative voices in these spaces through a claim to expertise, as they typically do in today's "rehabilitation" programs—instead, the communities affected by the conflict are the true experts and the best keepers of this work."
"Ultimately we all need to be accountable for doing the work of helping people unpack, take accountability for, and change harmful patterns. If you yearn for a world where we respond to harm with transformative justice, then the best thing you can do is start by educating yourself by reading the writings by those who have been doing this work for years, like Mariame Kaba and Mia Mingus. We could depend on people like Mariame Kaba and Mia Mingus to do this work, but long-term change doesn’t come from two people. We all need to be accountable to this work."
"The people who want to relate to their own harm differently, the harm they do/experience, because they realize they need to, or that it’s their duty, or that they just have the capacity to, they’ll do it, and in doing so, because of the relational nature of the work, they’ll connect with others in their life to do so. That connection is non-directional, it simply connects. In doing our own work, we hold space for others to do their own. As Paolo Freire said - 'no one liberates anyone, no one is self-liberated.'"
Submit an answer to next month's question: "What happens when prisons are a huge part of a small town’s economy?"
What We're Reading
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement
"Beyond Survival, [is] an edited volume of essays on Transformative Justice, from AK Press! It's a really great resource..."
The Turnstile Revolution: A Report From #FTP3
A Report And Analysis On The Recent Mass Transit And Anti-Police #FTP Actions Across The New York Area.
Dixie Be Damned: 300 years of insurrection in the American South
"[Dixie Be Damned] traces the history of abolitionist struggle in the South, focusing on decentralized militant resistance and autonomous communities starting from the Great Dismal Swamp Maroons. It reads like the textbook I wish I had in high school (when hell freezes over in TX public school system), but I'm [really] glad to be reading it now to ground my thinking around what abolition requires."
What are you reading? Tell us here!
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