Students and locals gathered outside of the Broome County Clerk’s office on Hawley Street Saturday to remember the lives of five inmates who died while in Broome County Sheriff’s Corrections Division’s correctional facility and to protest in favor of criminal justice reform.
The first of these deaths occurred in 2001, but in the last two years, four more detainees passed away while in custody. There is much speculation around the causes of death, some of which have been ruled suicides.
The event, “Vigil and Call to Action,” was organized by Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier. The local nonprofit advocates for the rights and humane treatment of inmates in Southern New York.
Around 35 protesters, half of whom were students, attended the event, despite the cold and snowy weather. There was a moment of silence as well as speeches by Binghamton University sociology professor William Martin, leaders of progressive local organizations, such as Truth Pharm and the NAACP, and family members of current and former inmates. They spoke of the current conditions in the jail and the need for immediate change.
“You are going to hear tales from the county executives that they provide good medical care, that they don’t racial profile and people get treated for substance abuse disorders in the jail,” Martin said. “It’s not true. Don’t believe the hype. Read the state reports. They are riddled with accusations and documentation over the denial of medical care, of unnecessary deaths, of a system run amok.”
Tajshna Robinson, an undeclared freshman, said she heard about the event through the BU College Progressives club and wanted to attended the vigil so she could help make a change in the community.
“As a freshman, one of the things I am realizing more and more is that the University is very secluded from the community,” Robinson said. “We should be more involved in helping the people of Broome County better their towns because we are also a part of this area.”
Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier’s reform proposals included better medical care for inmates, an oversight committee to evaluate the conditions of the jail, the end of bail and a 50 percent reduction of the prison population at the county correctional facility in Dickinson.
The activists were encouraged to continue putting pressure on local officials by contacting their offices and going to town halls so that the broken system can begin to be repaired. Robinson said she felt optimistic after the protest.
“The fact that people were willing to stand out in this freezing weather and talk about reform, and share stories and testimonies about their experience with the system, shows real hope for eventual change,” Robinson said.
Kojo Senoo, a junior triple-majoring in philosophy, sociology and political science, said that he attended to show support for those who have been incarcerated in both the Southern Tier and around the country.
“Many of these people have been done wrong by the criminal justice system, not just in Broome County but all over America,” Senoo said. “I feel that it is so crucial for people who are not incarcerated to show solidarity with those individuals.”