The two main candidates seeking to become Manhattan’s next district attorney have spoken out on a new report detailing the immense number of deaths within the New York State prison system.
On Oct. 12, Columbia University Center for Justice released a report finding that more individuals have died within the New York State prison system over the past decade than the total sum of executions throughout 300 years of capital punishment.
Titled “New York State’s New Death Penalty,” this study found that since 1976, 7,504 individuals have died while in custody of the Department of Corrections. Although New York last executed an inmate in 1963 and the death penalty was finally outlawed in 2007, researchers found that this did not slow death from occurring due to aging, sickness, and other issues.
Additionally, 56% of deaths over the last decade were of people 55 and older. Researchers along with lawmakers, Congress Member Jerry Nadler, and family have recommended the passage of Elder Parole — allowing those 55 and older who have already served 15 years an opportunity for parole—Fair and Timely Parole.
In response to this report, Democratic nominee for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told amNewYork Metro exclusively that he feels it is pivotal that both bills — Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Parole — be passed to alleviate the prison system while also protecting those inside.
“As a lifelong New Yorker, civil rights attorney, and district attorney candidate, I am horrified by the findings of this report. We can’t just say we’re against the death penalty, while leaving people who present no safety risk – overwhelmingly Black and Latinx – to die in prison. We must pass the Elder Parole bill and Fair & Timely Parole bill and expand the use of clemency to end the crisis of death in New York State prisons. Most importantly these common sense reforms will save lives and reunite families—and they will also save hundreds of millions of dollars per year that should be reallocated to support community safety and wellness.”
Republican District Attorney Candidate Thomas Kenniff also weighed in, believing that the number of deaths in prisons does not show the whole picture since there are those who have life sentences and committed terrible crimes who eventually will die from natural causes; however, it is alarming the deaths from negligent care and violence.
“The fact that more people have died in prison than have been executed is not on its face a completing statistic. New York State has not carried out an execution in nearly 50 years. There have, however, been many individuals who have received life sentences for heinous crimes such as premeditated murder. One would expect that many of these people would eventually die in prison of natural causes,” Kenniff said, “What is cause for alarm, is any circumstance in which a person dies in prison as a result of unnatural causes, be it violence or negligent care. No matter what the crime, we cannot condone punishment that is unduly cruel or inconsistent with our values as Americans.”
While candidates and elected officials voiced their opinion on the policies and state of Rikers Island, families continue to be caught in the middle.
“It’s just plain heartless to say that anyone should languish and die alone in prison because of archaic and racist policies. My own father was sentenced to 22 years to life and, like the vast majority of people who have matured behind bars, he’s totally rehabilitated. It would crush our family if he’s continually denied parole and left to die there, as has happened to countless other fathers, mothers, and grandparents,” said TeAna Taylor, Co-Director of Policy and Communications at the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice.