Students and community members met on Thursday to discuss an alleged history of mistreatment at the Broome County Jail and how to combat it, just a day after another inmate died within the facility.
The Broome County Jail on Trial forum, sponsored by Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), is the latest effort to organize against the jail, which has seen 11 inmate deaths since 2011. The facility has come under fire from community organizations such as JUST, Truth Pharm, Progressive Leaders Of Tomorrow (PLOT) and Citizen Action of New York, particularly during the recent Broome County District Attorney election, which has yet to be decided, pending absentee ballot tallies.
Activists have primarily advocated through forums and demonstrations, including a protest at the Binghamton Columbus Day Parade, which led to the arrest of four demonstrators.
While Thursday’s forum was planned before the most recent death, William Martin, an organizer for JUST and a Bartle professor of sociology at Binghamton University, said it made the meeting even more urgent.
“Tonight is an action to get people to come together and get mobilized over addressing the deaths in the jail, which there was another one,” Martin said. “A rather brutal case from what we’ve been hearing.”
Bobby Black, another member of JUST, said he doubts the death of the inmate, a 40-year-old man from Binghamton, stemmed from natural causes. Broome County Sheriff David Harder, who oversees the operations of the jail, said the inmate appeared to have a medical emergency, and noted that no trauma to the inmate’s body was discovered during a autopsy on Thursday.
“Folks are saying right now that people who were incarcerated with him heard him screaming that he needed help,” Black said. “He was just left in his cell, and they found him later on. I’m more inclined to believe that than to believe Harder.”
Binghamton Mayor Rich David was briefly in attendance, but was asked to leave by organizers, who said he is complicit in the jail’s alleged ongoing abuse. On his way out, David remarked that the organizers’ attitude is why they “don’t get results.”
During his speech, Black spoke about his experience with the jail system in Broome County, which began in 2011. He was also re-incarcerated for 79 days over the summer. Black said the point of the forum was to spread information on the negative effects mass incarceration has on the community.
“None of these folks should have died,” Black said. “Every single one of them should be with us. It’s egregious what’s happening there.”
Yasir Barton, brother of Salladin Barton, a formerly incarcerated person who died while in Broome County Jail’s custody almost five years ago, was also present at the forum via video. Barton said he believes the jail has gotten worse since his brother’s death.
“I know it’s still going on,” Barton said. “At this day, at this moment, this morning as I record this on the seventh of November, I know someone is getting mistreated in there.”
Another speaker, Jackie Card Wood, brought up a box containing the ashes of her brother, Robert Card, who died in January while in custody of the Broome County Jail.
“This is how I have to hug my brother now,” Card said while clutching the box.
Margaret Maydick, a senior majoring in economics, Maydick said she attended the forum after attending a protest during the arraignment of Dheiva Moorthy, vice president of BU Progressives and a sophomore double-majoring in environmental studies and sociology. Moorthy was arrested by Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD) after removing paid advertisements for Birthright International, a national pregnancy center, from Off Campus College Transport buses on several occassions.
Maydick said Moorthy’s arrest made her want to take action.
“Most recently, I was prompted by a friend and fellow organizer who was charged,” Maydick said. “She was targeted because she was a student organizer of color. White students have done similar actions and have not faced the same consequences.”
Maydick said she feels it is important for students to participate in community events and not limit themselves to issues only surrounding the school and student body.
“There are issues that we perpetuate and contribute to as students that often we don’t acknowledge, such as the gentrification issues in Binghamton,” Maydick said. “I think it is part of our duty as students and community members to confront these issues head on.”
Judy Santucci, a member of Truth Pharm, said she is eager to see change at the jail.
“I hope they can change the leader — he needs to be fired,” Santucci said. “I hear stories all the time of corrections officers beating up on the prisoners for no reason. They need to start at the top and clean that place out.”