Erie County Holding Center
The Erie County Department of Corrections(DOC) is responsible for managing both the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility. The majority of individuals who are held in by the DOC are awaiting trial or sentencing, and have not been convicted of a crime. This is due to an inability to afford bail or pretrial detention, and has impacted Black and low-income families disproportionately. Studies have shown that individuals who cannot afford bail are more likely to be detained pretrial, and people of color are more likely to be detained and have higher bail amounts compared to white individuals. This can result in pretrial detention being used as a form of punishment, rather than just a means to ensure court appearance and public safety. Pretrial detention also has negative consequences on individuals' employment, housing, and family relationships, which can perpetuate cycles of poverty and further entrench systemic inequalities.
Both Erie County facilities have a history of documented issues related to death, medical neglect, and excessive use of force by corrections officers against individuals who are incarcerated. According to a 2020 report by the New York State Commission of Correction, there were 21 deaths in Erie County jails between 2011 and 2019. Of those, 16 were due to medical issues or alleged suicide, and several were attributed to inadequate medical care. Yet, Sheriff Garcia and County Executive Mark Poloncarz want to build a new “modernized” jail in Erie County, under the assumption that a new jail will fix old problems. However, building a new jail will only entrench the power of the Sheriff's office for years to come. The constant abuse and killing at the hands of the DOC in Erie County and the rest of this nation is much larger than any one facility and will continue to result in unnecessary deaths until the dehumanization, devaluing, and targeting of Black, poor, and mentally ill people is addressed.
The current rate of incarceration in the US is not sustainable, and it is not achieving its intended goals of reducing crime and recidivism. As an interfaith based organization, we believe that every person has inherent worth and dignity, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are treated with compassion and justice. Rather than investing $200 million in building a new death camp, we urge our elected officials to redirect these resources towards more humane and effective solutions. This includes investing in mental health and substance use treatment, facilities, programs, and staff, robust and varied youth programs, addressing housing insecurity, food access for communities living under food apartheid, reentry housing and programming for formerly incarcerated, day/child care services, lead abatement, paratransit expansion, health care assistance/insurance, educational/vocational programming, and workforce training and opportunities.
As of May 2023, Erie County Legislators agreed to amend a provision to spend $2.5 million on a feasibility study for and acquisition of land for a new jail, to include study of whether Erie County actually needs new jail, and to withhold $1.75 million of $2.5 million until the study is complete. Community involvement is mandated in the needs assessment, and VOICE leaders along with other community organizations urge the legislature that the community have the ability to participate in the choice of requests for proposals (RFP) for the needs assessment, and that the legislature keep the needs assessment and feasibility study separate.