ACTS Delares a Victory!
FOR RELEASE: October 20, 2015
COUNTY EXECUTIVE JOANIE MAHONEY ANNOUNCES CHANGES TO END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT OF YOUTH
In response to a demand from the Criminal Justice Task Force of the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (“ACTS”), County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced changes which will relocate all minor youth currently held at the Onondaga County Correctional facility in Jamesville to the Justice Center downtown. It is expected that the transfer of these incarcerated youth will be completed on Monday, October 19th. Her response was given at an ACTS press conference held on Sunday, October 18, 2105 at Grace Episcopal Church.
ACTS a grassroots, interfaith network advocating for social justice, has been working for most of this year to end the use of solitary confinement of 16 and 17 year old youth in Onondaga County. The work began based upon a report from The Grace Project.
Reverend Johanna Marcure, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, spoke to the gathering about research which has shown that extreme isolation causes severe emotional and psychological harm, inducing apathy, lethargy, anxiety, depression, despair, rage and uncontrollable impulses, even among the healthy and mentally stable. The United Nations expert on torture called solitary confinement of juveniles “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”
A statement written by a 17 year old youth participant in The Grace Project who was recently released from the Onondaga Correctional Facility was read: “During my days locked in I battled suicidal thoughts, I talked with myself every day to remain focused, I refused to become what I had seen. To keep above the water is major. This is why incarcerated minds need hope, fair treatment and another option.”
Adolescent brains are still developing and with access to services and appropriate programming they are capable of redemption.
Mike Hungerford, task force co-chair, reminded us that as people of faith and conscience, we are called to forgive transgressions and treat every person with dignity. He outlined the history of the task force work, and cited Sunday’s event as a clear case of democracy in action. Concerned citizens identify and research an issue, bring it to the attention of elected and public officials, and then those officials respond with action either in policy or legislative change. We are appreciative that County Executive Mahoney shared our concern for these youth and thank her for her decisive action.
Barry Lentz, Chair of the ACTS Research and Action Committee, reacted to the County Executive’s announcement. “While we are very pleased that as of tomorrow, youth will no longer be subjected to solitary confinement, there is work left to do.” The Criminal Justice Task Force will monitor the completion of the relocation and ensure that Sheriff Conway and Justice Center officials provide restorative programs and services alongside appropriate disciplinary procedures.
This outcome should embolden ACTS and all concerned citizens to address broader issues such as: acting on Governor Cuomo’s Raise the Age Commission recommendation to enact legislation which will treat 16 and 17 year old youth in the juvenile justice system; join the nationwide movement to end mass incarceration; and to address core social issues of poverty. ACTS believes that incarceration is both a symptom of poverty, and a contributing factor to keeping individuals and communities in a perpetual state of poverty.
Lentz also stated that “ACTS understands the interrelationships between many issues, and that is why the other ACTS task forces also work toward this focus.” He noted that the PreK Expansion as well as Community Violence and Youth task forces are part of a comprehensive effort to make CNY an equitable and just community, where ALL people can live up to their fullest potential and contribute to society.
Barry Lentz, Chair of the ACTS Research and Action Committee