The Tompkins County Legislature recently voted 11–3 against a proposed one-year moratorium that would have postponed the county jail expansion, which includes the addition of seven beds and renovations.
This expansion promotes the racist prison-industrial complex. It also does not address overcrowding. The expansion will add seven beds to accomodate 15 inmates, and the additional beds may be used to push more prisoners into the jail.
At the same time, the expansion opens the possibility of improving conditions. As long as the county does not put more inmates in the jail, the expansion will create more living space. It will also prevent “board outs” that push Tompkins County inmates farther from home — if the county resists the temptation to overfill them. With the expansion, board outs are no longer acceptable.
Since the expansion is not being delayed, now is the time to pressure the county government to think beyond concrete walls. The county must devote resources to help inmates awaiting a sentence to prepare for their trials. Local government should adopt a more lenient stance against low-danger, nonviolent crimes.
Kings County offers a Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program, in which repeat nonviolent drug offenders attend rehab and, as a reward, have their sentences revoked. Besides this model program, the county can expand its Service Work Alternative Program to allow convicted nonviolent offenders to volunteer in their communities and avoid repeat offenses.
The expansion of the jail is inevitable, but the local government should adopt incarceration alternatives to prevent any future expansion.