Discussing New York state’s new bail reform laws, students, faculty and community members came together at United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton on Thursday evening for the Broome County Bail & Jail Community Forum.
A panel of activists and experts from the Greater Binghamton area spoke at the event along with professional football players Michael Thomas, a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints and Antoine Bethea, a safety for the New York Giants. Thomas and Bethea discussed how incarceration has affected their communities and why they now work to help other communities struggling with the same issue.
“We’ve got a passion for this,” Thomas said. “And when you have a platform, you need to use that to try and make real change.”
On April 1, the New York state Legislature passed a bill that eliminated pretrial detention and cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Broome County Jail housed an average of around 500 inmates each day in April 2019, a 4.6-percent increase from April 2018.
Speakers at the event highlighted the multiple deaths that have occurred in Broome County Jail, criticizing the health care system in the jail. Jackie Wood, 54, of Binghamton, told the story of her brother, Rob Card, who died 13 days after being arrested and sent to the Broome County Jail in January. Card had a brain tumor and was not given his seizure medicine while incarcerated. He was rushed to the hospital after having a seizure and falling on his head multiple times.
“We get to the hospital and he is in a coma with a tube stuck down his throat,” Wood said. “When a tube is stuck down your throat, your tongue hangs out to the side — he looked like hell.”
Other individuals spoke about their experiences inside the Broome County Jail, and gave firsthand accounts about the issues they faced. Chris Scott, 40, of Binghamton, was arrested at 16 and said he felt being sent to jail did not reform his life, but taught him the wrong values.
“I was in prison with people who had been in jail for a long time, who’d been in and out of jail, so they had the criminal lifestyle,” Scott said. “They had been living this for a while, so this is who I was learning from. I wasn’t learning from people I should be learning from. I was in there and I was learning how to do criminal activity better.”
Micah Barreiro, president of the Broome-Tioga chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said the forum is meant to be a jumping-off point.
“My final question is, ‘Now what?’” Barreiro said. “Are you going to go and sit with your friends and talk about ‘Man, that was incredible,’ and go sit home and do nothing? Or are you going to get up and educate the rest of the community, agitate those that are in office and make a serious change?”
Talon Bryce Thomas, 26, of Binghamton, said he came to the event because of his brother’s experience with the jail system and his family’s inability to pay for his bail. According to Thomas, he has always had a close tie to the bail reform issue, but now feels motivated to do something about it.
“We can talk about it as much as we want, but we got to get our feet wet, roll up our sleeves and get ready to do some work — action is going to be what brings the change,” Thomas said.