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Upstate Prisons, Upstate Courts, Upstate Juries

The upstate New York prison industry has long maintained a stranglehold on criminal justice affairs for downstate NY.   The upstate economy needs prisoners, and downstate has people to imprison.  The prison industry in our state is a big reason for our overly harsh drug laws.  It’s also a political power play.  Prison bids result in the disenfranchisement of downstate Blacks and Latinos, diluting our political strength.  And for decades, prisoners  counted as “residents” in the upstate towns where the prisoners are located, rather than their homes in New York City, further enhancing upstate’s political power.

And there’s another aspect of the stranglehold.  What happens if you get beat down by upstate prison guards?   Should you seek recourse in the legal system to enforce your rights, you’ve got to bring your case in an upstate court, with upstate juries.  Of course, we have no prejudice against the people serving on juries in the upstate federal courts, but let’s face it, a prisoner is not getting a jury “of his peers”, you’re going to get a jury of the Correction Officers “peers”.  Let’s look at some of the facts and whether, as a prisoner or former prisoner, you will get a jury of your peers.

First, in all federal courts, not just upstate but throughout the country, felons are prohibited from serving on a jury, so you’re NEVER going to have a person on a jury who has any understanding of what life is like for an inmate.

The upstate population is 80% white, and the jury pool is greater than 80% white.  Now, can a white juror be fair and impartial when faced with a black or Latino plaintiff and white correction officers?  Of course.  Will they bring any understanding of what it is like to be a minority in a white dominant society?  No, of course not.  Forget getting a “jury of your peers”, you are unlikely to get one juror who is your peer.

Another option is to bypass the federal courts in favor of the state court.  There, however, you do not get a jury, you get a judge who decides your case.  Any case brought against a state employee such as a Department of Corrections officer must be brought in the Court of Claims, not the Supreme Court where most trials are heard.  All cases in the Court of Claims are heard by judges only.  The Judge serves as the jury.  Without doubt, there are many excellent and fair Court of Claims judges, but are they your peer? No.  A judge in the Court of Claims is not elected, he or she is appointed by the Governor.  That means a Court of Claims judge is a political appointee, and a player in the political process.  Again, many of these judges are excellent, but are they the “peer” of the average inmate complaining about the conduct of a correction officer?  No, they are not.

We of course always encourage you to enforce your rights if they have been violated, but always know that for the upstate prisoner, enforcing rights in a court of law will always be a struggle.

 

Founding partner Leo Glickman has a long track record of holding the powerful accountable and fighting for progressive candidates and causes. Mr. Glickman represents candidates for Statewide and Citywide offices as well as many candidates for local legislative positions.

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