Yet another person has died in the Broome County Jail, the eighth in nearly seven years. On Jan. 25, Broome County Sheriff David Harder confirmed it, then took another day to release name of the person who had died.
We do not know the cause of death; we have only the sheriff’s word to go on, which is that the man died of a heart attack. This is difficult, considering that Harder has previously been, to put it lightly, economical with the truth. In talking about a previous death, Harder stated that to reveal information about that death would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but the New York State Commission of Correction, through a spokesperson, stated that it was left to Harder’s discretion whether to release that information. Furthermore, there is doubt among legal firms familiar with the act that releasing that information would violate the law at all.
It is clear that the jail at large, doesn’t care about the well-being of their prisoners. For example, Alvin Rios, an inmate who died in the jail in 2011, suffered from withdrawals and trembling, but did not receive assessment from a physician. Indeed, the report on the subject of Rios’ death from the Commission of Correction noted that Rios was left in “an emergent life threatening status without proper medical attention.”
We’ve seen there is a culture of lies in the Sheriff’s Office, which we can assume comes from the bottom upward — for someone like Harder to be in power, a criminal justice system like the one we have in place must allow for that kind of culture. But mere dishonesty is not all that is wrong with the jail and the system it occupies.
In 2016, 75 percent of the 505 inmates in its occupation were not there because they had committed a crime, but because they could not afford to post bail. They were not there because they were violent fiends who were unable to integrate into society; they were in this debtor’s prison for the so-called crime of poverty.
There are so many more problems, such as the horrible medical care, the refusal of medication to those who are incarcerated and the brutality that occurs within the jail perpetuated by its guards, such as holding children in solitary confinement — a practice recognized by international organs such as the United Nations Committee Against Torture as being “unacceptable” — that cannot be covered within the scope of this column.
As residents of this community, we have a moral imperative to care. Not just for the fact that caring about others no matter their situation is moral, but because Binghamton University has been complicit in the actions of the Binghamton Police Department writ large. Lest we forget, it was almost a year ago from the writing of this column that the University proposed, then, after overwhelming protest, that a blue-light telephone box system be installed on the West Side of the city of Binghamton, which would serve to increase the already omnipresent policing of these areas. This would not just have been done by their mere presence, but also by the cameras that would have been installed on top of them as well.
What can we do? We can go out into the community and work against the system of mass incarceration of which the jail is a part. We could work with a group such as Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier, which aims to dismantle that system in the long term. We may also study alternatives to policing in general, such as systems of restorative justice.
Critically, we need to be more active than we are now. These are all good starting points to helping stop the continuation of cruelty in jails.
Jacob Hanna is a sophomore majoring in economics.