Occupy Wall Street Protesters Take Aim at Prison System

Monday, February 20, 2012

Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in Harlem Monday to protest what they call mass incarceration of minority men by a racist prison system. 

Demonstrators dubbed criminal justice policies in the U.S. as the "new Jim Crow," pointing to a prison population made up mostly of blacks and Latinos.

Much like the messages heard in the broader Occupy Wall Street movement, the chants outside Lincoln Correctional Facility on West 110th Street called for wide-ranging, all-encompassing change to the criminal justice system. 

The crowd rallied against not only the racial disparities in the prison population, but also against immigrant detention, the use of solitary confinement in detention facilities, the NYPD's high rate of marijuana arrests and stop-and-frisks, and the mass unemployment and disruption to families caused by imprisonment.  

Prison abolitionists demanded eradication of the entire prison system, while others, like Sammy Crea, called for better rehabilitation programs for inmates.

"While incarcerated, I really had no education, coming into the prison system as a kid," said Crea. "Because my education is limited, my jobs are limited."

Crea, who called the prison system "modern day slavery," said he was first arrested for selling drugs as a teenager and spent the next 16 years going in and out of the system until his last release when he was 32.  

Others standing around him also chimed in about rehabilitation programs. Larry White, a Harlem resident who said he spent 32 years total in prison for armed robberies, believes it's a joke to say prison reforms criminals.  

"We can rehabilitate people better in the community than in prison, especially in an upstate prison," he said.

Demonstrators said the overcrowded prison system reflected a law enforcement community too bent on arresting people for minor crimes.

Many pointed to the more than 680,000 people who were stopped by the NYPD last year, 87 percent of whom were black or Latino.  Last year's stop-and-frisk total represented a 14 percent increase from the year before.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne has long defended the practice with the line, "Stops saves lives," arguing that the practice has been an important way to reduce violent crime in the city.

But protester Laura Whitehorn said most people caught up in the criminal justice system simply grew up in the wrong neighborhoods.  

"I'm here today because when you walk out of prison, you're very aware that there are a lot of women in there who have no business being in prison for so long," said Whitehorn.  "They're just locked up because they're black or because they were poor and they got involved in low-level crimes."


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Comments [16]

Jeffrey Heavin from Prairie Village,KS

We have about half of the amount of prisons that we need.Criminals kill someone then are allowed to "plea it down" to a lesser offense. After a couple of years they are released on parole and get right back to committing violent crimes. I would love to know how many of these "occupiers" finance their activities with funds from their parents.Like the student protesters of the 1960s, they are the spoiled-rotten children of hard-working prosperous people. Children raised in gated communities who can't stand to look into a mirror unless they are wearing a "Che" t-shirt.Their self-hatred is only lessened by the self-delusion that they earn coveted "street cred" by getting themselves arrested during this political theater that they're calling a revolution.Much ado...

Feb. 22 2012 11:26 AM

America has incarcerated more people per capita than any other democracy. The U.S. prison system is a corporate cash cow and a haven for political crony jobs. It thrives on the drug war and mandatory sentencing.

Yeah, the people inside are guilty of crimes, but the punishment often doesn't fit them. Violent criminals get lighter sentences than first time, non-violent drug offenders. The real crime in America is being so poor or politically unconnected that you can't beat the rap. It is less about race than class.

There are few educational, therapeutic, or training programs in prison these days. It is all punishment not rehabilitation.

After doing their time, the punishment of prisoners continues. They released into the public with fewer prospects for any employment that pays a living wage, their motor vehicle license is suspended, and, in some states, ex-prisoners have no voting rights. They become a permanent underclass.

The Occupy Movement is just connecting the dots is all.

Feb. 22 2012 12:55 AM

I did some time myself. There was a running joke inside about the one thing we all had in common: we were innocent. Very rarely does someone go to prison for no good reason, regardless of race.

Feb. 21 2012 04:23 PM
LMBO from america

lets just face the facts black and latinos are born criminals

Feb. 21 2012 02:34 PM

stfueveryone The statistics are not the same. 6% of Americans commit over 50% of the murders in this country. This is black men. There are other stats but why speak facts to people that do not cre to have real knowledge.

Feb. 21 2012 11:24 AM
Ronny Drayton from Jamaica,Queens NY.

Ms. Chang
My name is Ronny Drayton I am a professional musician (Lead Guitar)you can look me up on line I have worked with some of everyone in the game. I am fighting a 4 year battle with the Queens DAs office for the life of my only son Donovan Drayton who has been held on Rikers Island for 53 months March 13 with out bail. We have been to trial once and won but the DA Shaun Clark and his office will not let go.There have been unfair goings on here and its time to really address them. Please in your time go to
I have put up a "Time Line and Fact Sheet " of our case from its start Oct 12 2007. Donovan was 19 he is now 24, also watch The Donovan Drayton Story it will pull you into the court room and give you a clear view of what I and my family have been dealing with. You can reach me at
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.
Ronny Drayton

Feb. 21 2012 11:20 AM
Michael from Clifton, NJ 07011

Is the Occupy movement going to protest everything or just focus on something? I supported the movement in it's infancy, but they seem to have lost their way. Changing the system takes a lot more then marching in the streets. This being a presidential election year, it would be advantageous to the movement to engage the political establishment to achieve our goals. Let's get some leadership and get focused; this is the only way change will occur.

Feb. 21 2012 10:31 AM

I agree with the protestors. Punishment for crimes, excluding violent ones, should be negative reinforcement. Many people deny it, but a person who has been to prison automatically has less of a chance at employment.

Feb. 21 2012 10:05 AM

I agree the prison system should be shut down.
How about lets do this instead.

Murder and rape automatic execution within 10 days of conviction.

Damage to property or theft, pay back double, no bankruptcy protection.
Damage to human beings other than death, pay for complete healing of injured party and pay injured party's bills while party is incapacitated. If injured party cant be healed. institute eye for an eye criteria. If payment can not be made offending party is sold into indentured servitude until debt is paid.

Jail cells only for temporary holding while awaiting sentencing.

Who wants to support my candidacy?

Feb. 21 2012 08:57 AM

Although I support the campaign's overall message Lincoln Correctional Facility is the wrong prison to rally against it's a work release program. The men inside are serving out there sentence while they look for work and reintegrate with there families. No doubt these men have a difficult time while re entering society however they are afforded a better opportunity than just being released from prison and not knowing what they're next move or support will come from and wind up back in prison .

Feb. 21 2012 08:37 AM
john from office

This "movement" will end up where all movements do, down the toilet. No focus, no organization and absurd policies and tactics.

Feb. 21 2012 08:36 AM

Lol @charles, in his little white collar minimum security estate prison, complaining that he saw hardened criminals in between holes on the par 3... come on back with your evidence, between mandatory minimum sentences and the higher likelyhood that PoC are arrested I'm sure you have some good reason why minorities are overrepresented in prison population for minor crimes & drugs, when the crime rate is just about even across all ethnicities. I'm so excited to see all your fabulous "proof"

Feb. 21 2012 08:08 AM
Fuzzlenutter from Boston, MA

Remember folks, these are Obama, Pelosi, and the Dem's PEEPS!

Feb. 21 2012 05:46 AM
Susan from Manhattan

WNYC, I appreciate your OWS coverage.

Feb. 20 2012 10:42 PM

Guys, I am white and a professional and I have spent a year in jail. The claims of discrimination are absurd, and I can refute them. All of my colleagues in "da joint" deserved to be there, as did I.

I am tired of all you victims!

Feb. 20 2012 10:28 PM
wyatt revere

We could release these people into the custody of the occupiers and watch the ensuring chaos while they rehabilitate themselves. And within a day the occupiers would be pleading for police protection.

Feb. 20 2012 09:22 PM

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