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Rally calls for reform in local prisons

Community groups are renewing the call for reform inside the county's jail system. A Tuesday rally in downtown Buffalo highlighted the overcrowded  realities at the Erie County Holding Center and the Correctional Facility.

Rally organizers maintain the local prison population could be cut in half.

"Mental illness, folks, is not a crime. Being born Black and poor is not a crime. Being intoxicated is not a crime," said Jackie Ross Brown, pastor of New Covenant United Church of Christ, renewing an argument that the justice system is overly punitive to certain segments of the population.

"We urge you to allocate funds towards programs where our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers may be more effectively treated and rehabbed."

The violence inside prisons does little to rehabilitate, said Karima Amin, director of the advocacy group "Prisoners are People Too." She believes prison is a place where disrespect and inhumanity are the norm.  Her group was one of many called to the rally by VOICE Buffalo, an organization of faith communities working together for a better community.

"One of the major issues we have in our community is our males being locked up on first offenses," said Mercedes Wright, Youth Program Coordinator for Basic to Basics Outreach Ministry.

"There's no point of locked someone up without helping them first. So, therefore, once they come home they have the same repeated cycle and they end up back in jail, when they should be referred to different outreach ministries and different help."