We just wanted to give a quick welcome to our newest SCJR board members, Ariel Stillman and Noah Bein. In the next few weeks, we will introduce all of ourselves in more detail, but for now we are excited to have Ariel and Noah join us for an exciting year!
Welcome to the NYU Wagner Students for Criminal Justice Reform student group blog. This semester, through partnerships with other students groups, community organizations, and other initiatives, SCJR is expanding on its exploration of the intersections between criminal justice and other areas of public policy. In addition, we are dedicated to providing students with opportunities for action; to allow each of us to take what we have learned in the classroom and translate it into concrete steps that will lead to policy changes across our hopelessly broken criminal justice system.
The system is so broken that at this point almost everyone has heard the apparently mundane statistic that while the U.S has less than 5% of the world’s population, it has almost a quarter of the world’s prison population. Unfortunately, it also does not come as a surprise that the vast majority of people incarcerated are young Black and Hispanic men, almost half of which are imprisoned for non-violent or drug related crimes. The system of mass incarceration in the United States has been deemed The New Jim Crow by academic Michelle Alexander and growing rates of prisoners has been compared to the exponential growth of disease in global epidemics.
Wagner is a school that not only celebrates but demands top notch quantitative analysis to back up any discussions of social impact on the public sector. Strangely, here we have an advantage; the racist, inhumane, and unjust practices of the criminal justice system have been executed not under cover of darkness but in full view of the American public. These practices have been well documented –we are literally swimming in data – and with the silent compliance of millions of people. We are well aware of the use of solitary confinement in prisons even though this practice has been condemned by numerous international bodies and medical associations, we are apparently unperturbed when police departments decide to illegally surveil Muslim Americans or use quota systems that sanction racial profiling, longitudinal studies have shown that LGBTQ youth suffer a disproportionate amount of criminal punishments as compared to heterosexual youth yet nothing is done. I could go on and on. We must use this information; scream it from the mountain tops if we have to, to make sure that our politicians –those that we are voting for not just for President on Election Day but also next week on September 13th – know where we stand on all the issues. It’s no secret that criminal justice reform is not a popular topic; it’s tricky for those policy makers who want to be seen as “tough on crime” and politically unpopular in the polls. The system is also financially supported by privatized prisons, lobbying groups, and sadly huge parts of our state and national budgets.
But it can be done. Reform is slow and incremental, yet we have seen it before – in the Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms, in the slow improvement of standards for detention facilities that house unaccompanied minors following a class-action lawsuit in 2001, in the increase of programs that provide alternatives to incarceration for youth. As students at a school of public administration, we have a particular advantage in this fight for reform. We have the connections, the networks and the experience, we have the data and the arsenal to parse through it and make it understandable, and we have the privilege that comes from being at one of the best public affairs schools in America. This year, I invite you to join me and the SCJR Board as well as the NYC community, in standing together and starting this fight, in making our voices heard not just in the classroom but also in the streets of the city and the halls of our government.
New York Public Library Correctional Services Program Spring Book Drive
Now that classes are almost finished for the year, let SCJR take some books off your hands!
Beginning this Wednesday, May 9th, SCJR will be collecting unwanted books to benefit the New York Public Library’s Correctional Services Program, the goal of which is to get books into the hands of incarcerated New Yorkers and to provide inmates with accurate information on useful community resources upon release. They are run by two staff members and are otherwise entirely volunteer-based. Twice a week they run four mobile libraries and staff one standing library at Rikers Island. They also run a book recording project with detained fathers who take a series of early literacy workshops and then make a CD of themselves reading a favorite book to their children. Additionally, each week the Correctional Services Program receives roughly 60 letters from inmates throughout the US requesting information on a variety of topics. Volunteers and staff with strong research and library skills answer these letters, benefiting inmates around the country.
Both the outgoing and incoming SCJR boards feels that supporting NYPL correctional services program by conducting our own book drive is a worthwhile venture that will serve to spotlight the oft-ignored issue of low access to books in prisons. There will be a drop box clearly labeled in Puck 2nd floor student lounge startingtomorrow, May 9th, until Wednesday, May 16th, but we will also do our best to coordinate pickups or meet on-campus to collect large donations if feasible.
The books that NYPL would like are: dictionaries, popular titles (the Hunger Games series, James Patterson, John Grisham, Jeff Deaver, Dean Koontz, Stephen King), urban lit (Push: A Novel by Sapphire, Triple Crown, anything by Zane, Noire, or Donald Goines),education (recent computer books, Microsoft Office, World Almanacs, E-Z Series (Math, Geometry, Algebra), current GED workbooks, paperback dictionaries, handwriting books), vampire books (Twilight series, Anne Rice, Sookie Stackhouse novels, Vampire Huntress),young adult for women (Sharon Flake, Angela Johnson), graphic novels, biographies (sports, music),African-American history, investment/personal finance. PLEASE ONLY DONATE PAPERBACK BOOKS.
For further information about the NYPL Correctional Service Program, please visit their website:http://www.nypl.org/help/community-outreach/correctional-services-program.
It may be possible to schedule pickups with SCJR members off-campus. If you are interested in donating but don’t have a means to get the books to campus in the next two weeks (or would just like more information about the book drive) contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck on the rest of finals,
The 2011-12 and 2012-13 SCJR Executive Boards
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