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League of Women Voters team up to help end Mass Incarceration

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Partnering with a support group for those affected by incarceration, JUST, the League of Women Voters of Broome and Tioga held an informative meeting at the Vestal Public Library to discuss the local effects of mass incarceration.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the United States' incarceration rate has exploded beyond its capacity. 1 in every 100 U.S. citizens is now confined in jail or prison, most are detained for drug abuse problems. JUST member claim the Broome County Jail stands out as a serious problem, especially for having the highest amount of incarceration rates of any county in New York State.

Although Broome County's total crime rate fell 22% from 2012 to 2016, Broome's Jail rate continued to spike in record numbers. And the League and their partners believe the increase could be associated with the rise of drugs and addiction, and the inability to treat people with mental illnesses.

"Police and Correction Officers are not, necessarily, trained to do therapeutic services and we understand that. Unfortunately, without alternatives we're going to see people who really shouldn't be at the jail, at the jail," said Susan Ruff, President of the League of Women Voters of Broome and Tioga.

Local officials have estimated, 80-85% of those in Broome County Jail suffer from addiction problems. 

Another aspect of local-level incarceration the League stated they find disturbing is the high amount of detainees that are not convicted of a crime, still sitting in jail cells. Less than 25% of Broome's inmates, said JUST, are serving their sentences.

But many people wonder, why don't those awaiting conviction post bail until their trial date? The answer, according to JUST and the League, is bails are usually set at a higher price (thousands of dollars), in contrast to the crime (petty/infraction). And when someone serves jail-time, their life can be forever altered.

"People who are sitting in jail are losing their jobs, lose their homes and lose their kids. That's an awful lot of loss for anyone," said Susan Ruff. But it doesn't have to be that way, according to the League.

Incarcerated individuals are still people, said one JUST member who wished to remain anonymous, "My husband made a lot of bad choices, he's an alcoholic, but he doesn't deserve to be in prison for that." The JUST member said her husband decided to take a plea deal because he was afraid of dying in the Broome County Jail, since he knew he would be awaiting trial for a long period of time without proper medical treatment. She said his plea deal was less about himself than it was for his family's future.

"People don't think about the [incarcerated's] families that suffer, so often. I feel like I'm in prison. Whether you're formerly incarcerated or have a family member or loved one who is incarcerated...people don't care. They just see your crime, so you aren't a human being...you're your crime now," said JUST member.