Earlier this year, New York State Senator Pamela Helming (54th district) introduced a bill (S2575) that would make permanent the hardships thousands of New York families have suffered during the Covid-19 crisis. The proposed law would require the commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to permanently terminate the conjugal visit program, commonly known as the Family Reunion Program (FRP). It also prohibits the creation of any similar visitation program by the commissioner or other agency. …


The following commentary is by Martha Ackelsberg, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government and of the Study of Women and Gender, emerita, Smith College; and Advisory Board Member, Alliance of Families for Justice.

Ever since the Coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, medical and other personnel warned that prisons—where medical facilities tend to be limited and poor, sanitary supplies are lacking, and social distancing is virtually impossible—were likely to be perfect petri dishes for the spread of the virus. Advocates for the health and safety of those imprisoned argued for the release of all those who were close to…


The following letter is from Alliance of Families for Justice member Mimi.

After 160 days of not being able to see, touch or kiss my significant other we were finally reunited on August 8, 2020. While DOCCS (the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision) didn’t allow any physical contact, they also refused to reinstate the processing of marriage license applications. Growing up, I always dreamt about being married, having a white picket fence, a brown dog, and watching my children play in the yard. Well, as you can see God had another plan for me, and my white picket fence…


The following essay is by AFJ member Kenya D. Thorpe about her marriage to the love of her life and their resilient love during the inhumane Covid-19 response in New York’s prison system.

There are times when I sit down to write a letter and as a heading I use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern.” For this I would prefer to use the heading “To Whomever Thinks This Doesn’t Concern Them.”

It may not seem like it to those who just met me or know me professionally, but I have been serving time since August 1, 2016. That…


In the following essay, AFJ’s executive director Soffiyah Elijah reflects on the importance of active civic engagement and AFJ’s voter registration efforts this year:

For nearly two years, 17-year-old Amir had interned with the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) performing a variety of mostly office related activities. However, his role was changing at AFJ now as he became the junior member of its “get out the vote” team.

Early on a Saturday morning in August, Amir joined a group of volunteers and family members from AFJ as they piled into a car after loading up the trunk with a…


The following are thoughts about the importance of visitation and maintaining bonds between incarcerated people and their loved ones — reflecting on its magnified importance during the coronavirus crisis.

The authors are spouses ibn Kenyatta — an author, artist, and activist who has been incarcerated in New York since 1974 — and Safiya Bandele who is an activist, retired professor at Medgar Evers College, and former director of the college’s Center for Women’s Development.

They, and all of the family members, volunteers, and staff at Alliance of Families for Justice, urge New York State to put into place full safety…


The following is an essay by By: Judith Plaskow, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Manhattan College & Volunteer for Alliance of Families for Justice

Even as the number of coronavirus cases is seriously declining in New York State, its jails and prisons have served as perfect petri dishes for the incubation of the virus. Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, the impossibility of social distancing, and the unavailability of basic protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer have left incarcerated people highly vulnerable to Covid-19. …


The following is letter from James Melchiorre, a volunteer with AFJ:

Some of the greatest stress during the novel coronavirus pandemic has fallen on the nearly 40,000 incarcerated persons in the 52 state facilities under New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, as well as their family members who worry about unsanitary prisons, lack of soap, and common areas where social distancing is impossible.

As this situation has only worsened, with total inaction by our state’s leaders over the last 4 months, these affected New Yorkers naturally should have a process for redress and to hold people accountable. When…


A letter from T.W., an AFJ family member:

For many families of incarcerated people, the Department of Correction and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Family Reunion Program (FRP) is the only way to actually spend time with our loved ones and feel some type of ”normal”. You are able to do activities together such as cook, watch movies, walk outside and have a closer experience. For the incarcerated person, it provides a positive mind set and something to look forward to, as well as promoting better behavior patterns.

These are reasons why it is very disturbing that, while City guidelines are starting…


A Message From Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice:

Like many Black kids in the U.S. I learned at a very young age never to trust the cops. That was not a lesson that my parents taught me. They didn’t get a chance because the cops beat them to it when they murdered the unarmed innocent son of our neighbor.

I didn’t understand systems of racism and oppression then but I understood that the people paid to protect me and my community had violated my trust and murdered my friend’s brother. There were no videotaped accounts…

Alliance of Families for Justice

AFJ is powered by and for the families of incarcerated New Yorkers and allies across the state. www.afj-ny.org

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