A Day In The Life

Defending the Incarcerated Through the Prisoners’ Rights Project

For decades, our Prisoners’ Rights Project (PRP) has fought to protect the rights of incarcerated New Yorkers. Our work on the frontlines has pushed the conversation around dangerous conditions in our jails and prisons, warning anyone who would listen about incarceration’s devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities. Now, with COVID-19 raging inside our prisons and jails, our work is more important than ever.

We’re pushing the city to invest in the things that build strong and stable communities.

Stefen R. Short has been working with PRP for over four years and has seen first-hand how the carceral system has ensnared vulnerable New Yorkers. Take those living with mental illness. Stefen explains that years of cuts to community-based mental health services have left low-income New Yorkers with nowhere to turn for essential help. Unfortunately, due to unmet mental health needs, many end up in the criminal justice system. There, Stefen and his colleagues advocate for the expansion and maintenance of mental health services, though Stefen is the first to admit that jails and prisons are not equipped to provide robust mental health services. Even still, once our clients are released from incarceration, they are often felled by a lack of community-based mental health services. “These are the kind of cases we litigate at PRP, and they really encapsulate all the indifference in the system.” Due to a lack of services and supports in prison and in the community, many of our clients are mired in the criminal justice system for years or even decades.

This vicious cycle is just one of the many problems PRP is litigating to fix. PRP works tirelessly to address the carceral system’s most serious problems, including: brutality, overcrowded facilities, deficient medical care, sexual abuse, substandard educational and programmatic opportunities, and dangerous conditions. PRP also works to ensure our clients receive the items they need to protect themselves from COVID-19 and has pushed the State to release immunocompromised and otherwise vulnerable people. PRP works to amplify the voices of incarcerated individuals and fight back against systemic challenges.

At the end of the day, Stefen and his colleagues see their work as part of a larger struggle, one of “disinvestment from state violence and reinvestment in community opportunities for people.” By protecting and advancing the rights of our city and state’s most vulnerable, PRP pushes the city and state to invest “in the things that build strong and stable communities and afford people the ability to live full lives.”

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