Today, over 100 families of incarcerated people from across New York State held a series of concurrent rallies in six regions—Long Island, New York City, Westchester, Albany, Syracuse, and Buffalo—to call for an immediate end to the cruel Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) package ban. Originally announced earlier this year, the change in policy prohibits people from sending food packages to incarcerated family members, and limits the number of personal (non-food) packages one can receive to two per year. All food packages must now go through approved vendors, which has dramatically increased costs for families.
As a result of this baseless ban, families will be forced to use price-gouging vendors to send any food to loved ones. The availability of food items is extremely limited and cannot accommodate dietary, religious, and cultural needs. Fresh foods are liable to spoil during transit, denying incarcerated individuals access to healthy food. Vendors do not accept EBT cards as payment for those living below the poverty line who rely on this supplement to send food to their loved ones. This is just one of many ways prisons deny people’s dignity and humanity.
Theresa Grady, NYC Community Leader with the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, said: “Packages should not be stopped. You are denying our loved ones the opportunity to have fruits and vegetables and other basic needs. I have a husband suffering with kidney issues. Precious vitamins from food are critical for his and others’ survival. We need our packages back. This package ban puts additional financial burdens on families. It’s time to end this ban now.”
Veronica Finnerman, New Hour for Women and Children Long Island, said: “I spent three years incarcerated hundreds of miles away from my family. They couldn’t visit. I depended on my care packages every month to survive. State food is hardly decent for human consumption. Commissary is incredibly expensive and doesn’t have what we need. Women and pregnant people are disportionately harmed by this ban. I’m a mother now and can’t imagine being incarcerated and pregnant. The package ban does not impact the amount of contraband entering the prisons. We all know where contraband comes from, and it’s not from packages. We are all human beings, mothers and women who deserve basic human rights.”
Jerome Wright, Co-Director of the #HALTsolitary Campaign, said: “We just commemorated the 51st anniversary of the Attica rebellion, and the denial of packages was one of the premier issues. Why are we going down this road again? Packages are essential for physical, mental, and emotional sustainability. To put this added burden on the family and friends of the incarcerated is unconscionable and criminal.”
Anthony Bibbs, Center for Community Alternatives, said from Syracuse: “Packages are critical to surviving in prison – they were for me when I was inside and they are for people now. Packages supplement the terrible, often inedible, food in prison. They make sure you have toiletries and can keep yourself clean. Without packages, you have to beg other people to meet your basic needs, which is hard to do in prison.”
Ethel Edwards, Survived and Punished NYC, said: “This is another way to punish and kill off our family members. You cannot get healthy food in the prisons. They’re promoting diabetes and heart disease. I did 8 years and 13 days in prison. These companies are monopolizing off of our pain. It’s too expensive. We can barely afford to make ends meet. From experience, I know that officers bring in drugs. It’s not the packages. There is no reason why this should be used for another form of packages. End the package ban.”
Anna Adler, Co-Founder of Sing Sing Family Collective, said outside Sing Sing Correctional Facility: “Prison is a hopeless environment. Too many people have life without parole or too big of sentences that they’ll make it home. We need to bring back earned time and good time. We need to reopen programming in a robust way. And we need to stop this package ban.”
Tammar Cancer, Center for Community Alternatives, in Albany said: “For 21 years of incarceration, I survived off packages. That was the only way I got fresh broccoli, fresh produce at all. This package ban harms incarcerated people, but it also places an undue burden on incarcerated people’s families. Monthly costs have jumped from $100 dollars a month to $400 or $500 dollars per month. Governor Hochul must treat families with dignity and respect and end this package ban.”
Kristian Hansen, age 47, currently incarcerated in Sullivan Correctional Facility said: “I’ve been incarcerated since I was 20 years old and each month my family shares their support and love with a care package for me. This ban takes away the only ray of sunshine I have while I’m here. I depend on fresh fruits and vegetables to maintain my health and this will drastically impact my ability to stay healthy as I age.”
Caroline Hansen, Social Justice Coordinator for the Long Island Social Justice Action Network, said: “This ban entirely lacks merit. This is a blatant attempt to increase profits for vendors by seizing control of the health and lives of those incarcerated throughout New York State. Despite claiming this move will limit the amount of contraband entering prisons, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has failed to present any substantiating data. 40% of illnesses are related to a lack of access to healthy food. We join with families across New York State to call on DOCCS to immediately reverse this ban.”
Meghan Maloney de Zaldivar, Director of Organizing and Strategy, NY Immigration Coalition, said at the rally in Buffalo: “Immigrants who are jailed at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, NY just 45 minutes from us are not allowed any care packages. The only items they can receive from outside are books, they must be new and directly from the seller. The guards routinely deny books and it seems like each day they have new restrictions. The majority of people who are incarcerated long term at Batavia are people who have been impacted by the criminal legal system and face double jeopardy–now jailed in the immigration system. Everyone deserves to be supported by their community whether its access to books in Batavia or fresh produce in Bedford Hills. Our community members need that lifeline from the outside to survive incarceration.”
Nawanna Snipe-Tucker, Queens Community Leader with the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, said: “My husband has been incarcerated for 32 years for a crime he did not commit. Please, reinstate the packages. These vendors are run by officers, judges, and other people who are making money on our loved ones’ incarceration. I know the burden of putting a package together. I can’t believe how much these new vendors cost. It’s a burden when we have children, need to go to work, and visit our loved ones. This is about health and wellness. We are demanding that these packages be reinstated.”
Background: New York State’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) now restricts care packages people can bring (or mail) to incarcerated loved ones. Friends and families must mail care packages directly from approved vendors, allegedly for “security,” no there is no evidence to back this up and incarcerated people often report that officers and other staff are the primary source of all contraband. This limits what little access incarcerated persons have to basic needs, including healthy, fresh foods—though produce is part of the allowable items but must come via a shipment from an approved vendor that presents additional challenges.