Binghamton Protesters: Reduce Arrest Rates, Increase Social Services

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) – In response to the killing of George Floyd, the third protest in five days was held in Binghamton on Thursday evening. This one focused on criminal justice in Broome County.

Hundreds of protesters gather to demand a reduction in the jail’s incarcerated population and funding, as well as increased resources for social services in the community.  Photo by Jill Forstadt, WSKG News.

Chanting “we’re not free until you’re free,” protesters marched to the Broome County jail to stand in solidarity with those people incarcerated inside.

Protesters called for reducing the jail’s population and criminal justice reforms. As of 2017, Broome County had the highest jail incarceration rate of any New York county, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

In 2017, there were 409 incarcerated persons per 100,000 residents ages 15-64 in the county. Tompkins County, by comparison, held 92 incarcerated persons per 100,000 residents. New York City just 165 per 100,000 residents. While crime has gone down throughout the state, Broome County’s jail incarceration rate has steadily increased since 2005.

Protesters march up Lt. Vanwinkle Drive in Binghamton toward the Broome County jail. June 4, 2020. Photo by Jill Forstadt, WSKG News.

In 2017, nearly half of all persons incarcerated at Broome County jail were black. At the same time, black people make up just 5% of Broome County’s total population.

As part of her graduate work at Binghamton University, speaker Ella Friday frequently visits the jail.  According to Friday, inequities in the jail drove the night’s protest.

“For some reason anytime we see someone in trouble with the police we think of them as less than, we think of them as not deserving basic human rights and that is not the case,” Friday said. “They are constantly denied that at Broome County jail, and that’s why we are here today. That’s why we speak out.”

In the last 9 years, protesters said 11 people died while held at the jail. According to the Press Sun newspaper, the Broome County Sheriff’s Office says nine inmates have died while in custody since 2011. Local advocacy groups have cited 11 deaths during that period, including two inmates who died after getting out of jail.

Andrew Pragacz, a cofounder of Justice and Unity in the Southern Tier, said the jail makes the community worse.

“It takes resources away from the things that we actually need in our community, that make our community thrive,” Pragacz said.

Reducing the jail’s funding and incarcerated population, Pragacz added, would free up resources for other community needs. According to protesters, those needs include more mental health care, substance abuse services, free childcare and food security in Binghamton’s Northside, where the last grocery store closed 25 years ago.

Community organizers plan to meet on Sunday to draft a list of demands which will be turned over to local officials.