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New York rallies call for passage of 'Communities Not Cages' bills

Nyatwa Bullock leads the "Communities Not Cages" rally outside Syracuse City Hall on Wednesday, November 16.
Ava Pukatch
Nyatwa Bullock leads the "Communities Not Cages" rally outside Syracuse City Hall on Wednesday, November 16.

Several rallies were held across New York Wednesday afternoon urging lawmakers to pass a series of "Communities not Cages" bills aimed at prison reform.

Community activists are calling for the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums, Second Look and Earned Time Acts to be passed by New York's legislature. In the 1990s, New York previously limited the amount of time people could earn off their sentence through prison programs to just six months.

Activists say these bills can make New York's sentencing laws more fair to everyone - encouraging personal transformation during prison time.

Marcelle Smith was formally incarcerated and spoke about what effect these bills could have.

"Had these laws been in place then I may have earned more time off of my sentence. I may have gotten a chance to be looked at a second time as opposed to waiting 24 and a half years to come to the conclusion that I'm able to be released or my mandatory minimum may not have been 25 years."

Smith was released in May 2022. He said he's dedicated to the cause because he was fortunate to be released.

"I represent a lot of guys who have changed," Smith said. "But they haven't gotten the opportunity to get out here and do the same things I'm doing."

More than 30,000 people are incarcerated in the state - the majority are people of color.

Nyatwa Bullock, a statewide organizer for the Center for Community Alternatives, led the Syracuse rally.

"If we trust the system and everything they've been offering our incarcerated individuals, we should trust that they can come home and do what they need to do to be productive in our society," Bullock said.

"This is a bill for our community," Bullock continued. "This is a bill that's going to make our community safe. We really got to get some change with these bills."

All three bills are in committee.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.