End the Carceral State

The American carceral system is a humanitarian crisis and a national disgrace. The United States has both the largest number of people incarcerated in the world and the highest rate of incarceration. The carceral system is in fact a front in the class war, one where the poor are constantly under the scrutiny of a militarized police force that arrests them for economic crimes, for drug offenses stemming from a racist War on Drugs, or for nothing at all—as the high rates of exoneration for wrongful convictions routinely demonstrate. Getting caught up in the system costs defendants hundreds or thousands of dollars  as fines and fees pile up and are compounded by usurious interest rates.

At its core, the carceral system is a form of racial oppression. From the murders of Black and brown people by police officers who walk free to their surveillance under stop-and-frisk policies and the racial disparities in drug convictions, the carceral system perpetuates white supremacy.

Those who are the survivors of real trauma and harm see their reported crimes go unaddressed while they themselves are blamed for the harm suffered.

We demand the enactment of basic reforms that will immediately reduce this suffering on the path to ultimate abolition of the carceral system.

Policing

  • Decriminalize all recreational drugs immediately and direct resources wasted on the drug war towards public health. Fully legalize marijuana for adult use with appropriate regulation to ensure that the industry benefits communities harmed by the drug war and does not become a capitalist enterprise. All drug war prisoners must be released.

  • Decriminalize sex work immediately. Redirect resources wasted on the prosecution of sex workers toward sex worker-run organizations protecting their safety, health, and rights.

  • Decriminalize all petty offenses immediately — particularly “crimes of poverty” like fare-jumping and sleeping on the subway. Repeal the gravity knife law.

  • Expunge all convictions of drug crimes, sex work, and petty offenses and immediately release all who are incarcerated for such crimes.

  • End stop-and-frisk and other “broken windows policing” immediately, as well as the over-policing and surveillance of Black, minority, queer, trans, and immigrant communities.

  • Abolish metrics like arrest quotas that encourage police to “make their stats” by arresting New Yorkers for victimless crimes.

  • Replace the toothless, unaccountable Civilian Complaint Review Board with an Elected Civilian Review Board empowered to prosecute police misconduct. Institute other measures that empower direct community control of the police, such as a community board.

  • Implement use of civil liberties supervisors in police precincts.

  • End qualified immunity for police officers. 

  • Invest in programs and resources to end homelessness and provide effective mental health and substance abuse treatment, including drastically increasing inpatient services for all New Yorkers.

  • End civil asset forfeiture.

  • Address the opioid epidemic and other substance abuse issues as public health problems—not crimes—through a harm-reduction model that includes measures such as safe injection sites and the wide availability of Narcan.

  • Raise the age of adult criminal prosecution to 18, without exception. 

  • Change the use of “youthful offender” prosecutions to enable young adults up to age 26 to be kept out of the criminal justice system whenever possible. 

  • Abolish juvenile justice prosecutions for minor offenses and remove police from schools.

Pre-Conviction

  • Immediately stop all prosecutions for drug crimes, sex work, and petty offense in advance of action from Albany on decriminalization.

  • Abolish routine pretrial detention and cash bail. The abolition of cash bail must not result in added invasive surveillance or flawed algorithms that perpetuate the injustices of cash bail in neoliberal metrics.

  • Call on New York’s courts and law enforcement to resist to the fullest extent possible Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) brutal methods and refuse cooperation with the immigration enforcement system.

  • Close Rikers immediately and demand that no new jails be built in its place. The jail population must be immediately reduced to the lowest possible level.

  • Implement automatic open-file discovery in criminal cases.

  • Increase funding for public defender offices to ensure sufficient staffing, pay and resources to provide high-quality legal representation to all low-income New Yorkers. 

  • Guarantee defendants an actual, effective speedy trial and end the current regime, where a defendant’s speedy trial clock only counts time when the prosecution declares “not ready” for trial, and fails to ensure defendants receive their day in court.

  • Divert those accused of crimes with mental disorders and substance abuse issues from the criminal legal system and into treatment. Pre-trial diversion into rehabilitative and/or restorative programs must be the default and incarceration the exception.

  • Plea negotiations must be supervised by judges to weed out baseless cases, curtail over-prosecution, and facilitate the just and speedy resolution of cases.

  • End cooperation with federal authorities that results in sky-high sentences for drug crimes and other crimes punished more harshly by the federal courts.

Post-Conviction

  • Invest in restorative justice programs in New York State and other alternatives to incarceration, with the ultimate goal of ending the carceral state.

  • Immediately reduce New York’s prison population to historical average rates, through mass releases and investment in reentry programs. New York must sustain this decrease through systemic reforms in sentencing and prosecution.

  • Demand that the Governor drastically increase commutations, pardons, and paroles through his clemency power.

  • Abolish collateral consequences related to criminal convictions, including those that ban people from public housing and other public services.

  • Ensure that reductions in the incarceration rate result in prison closures. No new prisons should be built.

  • End the use of private detention facilities. 

  • Create a streamlined process for the expungement of past criminal convictions.

  • Enact “Ban the Box” statewide, making it illegal to ask about past criminal history on a job application.

  • Reform the parole system to make early release the default option and to reduce political pressures to keep people behind bars.

  • Abolish routine fees and fines. Only where a defendant is genuinely able to pay, and their crime has caused economic harm to an individual, must a fine be considered. The poor must not be made to pay for their own prosecution and incarceration.

  • Guarantee the right to vote for all incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, without conditional pardoning or re-registration requirements.

  • Seal all records related to prostitution charges.

  • Ensure that all incarcerated people receive transition related care, including but not limited to access to hormone therapy and gender affirmative surgeries.