PHOTO COURTESY ROCHESTER ACCENT
Emily Good announced her candidacy for Monroe County Sheriff on Monday. The release also invited media to a press conference to be held this morning at 10:30 a.m. in front of the Monroe County Jail on S. Plymouth Ave.
Good’s unlawful arrest for recording an on-duty Rochester police officer in 2011 hit international news and became part of a heated debate about the civic right and responsibility to police the police. We spoke with the activist to learn more about her platform and goals as the Green Party candidate for Sheriff.
Rochester Accent: What led you to run for Monroe County Sheriff?
Emily Good: In the fall of last year I began visiting a political prisoner in Attica. The process of entering the prison often includes bearing heartbreaking witness to families being denied visitation for petty, irregular reasons that are also frequently racist and sexist. The prison brought up deep feelings of injustice and suffering that I felt called to explore further, so I started reading more about the criminal justice system and alternative models.
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow really spurred me to take action, as did the letters I received from prisoners across the state responding to my unlawful arrest two years ago. The more I learned about the so-called correctional system, the more I saw its shattering impacts around me.
I spend some time at the local Catholic Worker house, part of a movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, whose mission to build a society in which it is easier for people to be good to each other resonates strongly with me. Visits to our county jail and state prison clearly demonstrate that we are not doing the best we can to build that society, so I decided to make an effort to change the way we approach law enforcement and incarceration.
You have chosen to run for Sheriff as the Green Party candidate. What does Green Party philosophy specifically bring to the table with regards to law enforcement and the criminal justice system?
I have been a Green Party member since I first registered to vote, which probably makes it easier for me to embrace the idea of becoming a candidate. Grassroots democracy is one of the party’s key values, and it works best when “regular folks” from across the community get involved in creating the policies that affect them. Law enforcement affects all of us, though its visible presence in our lives varies greatly, depending on where we live, what we look like, and other factors. A commitment to equal opportunity coupled with respect for diversity leads Green policymakers towards a system that tracks race and ethnicity for all interactions with law enforcement officers. Collecting these data will draw our attention to patterns of disproportionate engagement that we can then work on changing.
The core Green concept of sustainability has relevance far beyond maintaining our physical land base. When we look at the long-term reality of imprisoning people, we see that most of these people will sooner or later return to our communities, and we will reap what we have sown through our investments in their lives. Using restorative justice models along with therapy, training, and education programs will help bring people back to our community who are able to contribute meaningfully to society as they rebuild their lives and futures. The system that is currently in place neglects this long-term perspective, reflecting a poor use of resources that too often results in persistent crises for those impacted by the system.
The Green party condemns the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, which are guilty of stopping motorists, harassing individuals, or using unwarranted violence against suspects with no other justification than race or ethnic background. They also strongly support the strengthening of legal services for the poor.
The Greens are also committed to increasing participation of women in politics, government and leadership so they can change laws, make decisions, and create policy solutions that will affect and improve women’s lives. Since men dominate the field of law enforcement, I would work for gender equity in department staffing to improve services and expand capacity, particularly in reducing gender violence and other issues that negatively affect women.
What do you see as the most important duties of the Sheriff, and how are you qualified to fulfill these duties?
The Sheriff manages a large number of workers, many of whom interact with the public under very stressful circumstances. Training patrol officers, court security and jail workers, and administrative support staff to serve the public in a respectful manner and in accordance with their legal rights is a tremendous task. I will take it on with deep concern for every human being involved. Nonviolent communication skills have helped me maintain and improve challenging relationships, and I will ensure that all employees will be instructed and proficient in these techniques. Recurring patterns of disrespect or violence will not be tolerated.
Of utmost significance to the approximately 1500 inmates who dwell in jail on any given day is their own care. The Sheriff is charged with providing nutrition, medical care, and religious services to those in custody. Having worked as a caregiver in many different settings, including serving the elderly, the very young, and people with disabilities, I am acquainted with the diversity of needs that may be present in such a large population. I would oversee these responsibilities carefully, taking time to work alongside the direct providers of meals and basic services.
The provision of medical services is too important to be outsourced. The current contractor, Correctional Medical Care, has been judged “grossly negligent” by the state Commission of Correction. The contract should be terminated and care for jailed inmates should return to the County. Unlike my opponent, I do not accept campaign contributions from corporations—particularly not corporations that provide inadequate health care to our jailed population—and that independence enables me to objectively arrange for the best medical services possible.
What do you see as the most pressing civic issues that Monroe County faces with regards to the justice system and law enforcement?
Drug crimes are overwhelming the system. Simple possession of an illegal drug can ensnare a person in the system, having rippling negative effects on their life and their community. Sending so many people to jail for drug offenses actually increases the likelihood of crime in our neighborhoods. It tears apart families and takes away opportunities for employment, education, and housing.
The majority of crime is nonviolent and much of it can be linked to poverty. More than one in five Monroe County residents live in poverty, and until we address the underlying needs of housing, food, education, and employment, we can expect to see the cycle of hardship and suffering continue to impact the most vulnerable members of our society, eventually leading many to incarceration and early death.
What are the necessary shifts in policy that the Monroe County Sheriff seat needs to address?
Justice is not being served for an individual or for our community when a person’s drug possession or addiction results in a long jail term. With widespread public support, the Sheriff should direct deputies to prioritize issues of safety, not innocuous drug use. We must grow to understand drug abuse and addiction as a public health issue, not a crime.
Decarceration is imperative for a just society. Before the Drug War tainted our common sense with financial incentives for caging users, most mainstream criminology scholars agreed on this point. In 1973 the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and goals found that “the prison, the reformatory, and the jail have achieved only a shocking record of failure. There is overwhelming evidence that these institutions create crime rather than prevent it.”
Law enforcement policy must become more proactive, adopting a compassionate approach to engagement that promotes trust and genuine partnership. We must aim to successfully build people up, not just lock them up, while the greater community works on long term solutions to the problem of crime with policies that address the underlying causes of disparity and unemployment.
How will you go about initiating these shifts?
Our department would stop accepting financial incentives for drug arrests. Forfeiture laws encourage departments to steer more of their energy and resources towards the pursuit of drugs because police can seize drug-related assets and keep the money to benefit their department. Refusing the bait is one clear way to say no to the drug war.
I will advocate for drug treatment to be made available on demand to anyone who needs it. This up front investment in health care will save money and lives down the road.
I pledge to stop the D.A.R.E. program, which does not work, and instead bring Restorative Justice oriented conflict resolution programs to schools. Deputies will model and teach nonviolent methods of dealing with conflict.
What resources and support from the government and the populace are required to shape more effective policy?
The Public Defender’s office needs to be funded at the same level as the District Attorney’s office. There are people languishing in jail for no other reason than because they lacked suitable defense. Public defenders in the city have absurd caseloads that frequently prevent them from representing their clients effectively. We must find ways to support those who can successfully work within the current legal system to avoid jail.
Additionally, we must restore funding to pretrial services that have recently been slashed and restore the Alternatives to Incarceration program, which help direct some people in the system for nonviolent offenses to places other than jail.
We need a willingness on the part of the government and the public to invest in prisoners’ lives. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven successful in reducing recidivism among people convicted of nonviolent and violent crimes. We should make this therapy universally available to prisoners and those on probation and parole. Providing real opportunities for stability and employment outside of jail requires investment in job training and education on the inside.
Do you perceive roadblocks to enacting these shifts, and if so, what are they?
Unfortunately, there are several damaging prejudices held by a large sector of the public. Many people feel unconcerned about the experiences of poor people and people of color. Conversations about race and class tend to be uncomfortable, so we avoid talking about it and even segregate ourselves to make it easier. We must learn the racial and class history of mass incarceration. Our deeply socialized biases have influenced policies regarding crime—especially drug crime.
Similarly, we have a tendency to recoil from advocacy for those who are labeled criminals. The Restorative Justice process helps expand our awareness of the adverse impacts on the whole community when we isolate and label the people who most need connection and hope if they are to improve their lives.
Many rural communities must confront the cruel challenge of financial dependence on the prison system in order to take action for justice. Retraining ought to be available to any prison worker willing to switch to a career that provides more benefit to the community, and the public should work collectively to decide the fate of shuttered facilities.
How will you address these roadblocks?
I will give voice to new ideas and visions that give people hope for change, helping our community to understand that no one wins in this current system. For example when we put prisons in communities as a means of employment these communities show increased patterns of domestic violence and addictions. We are all suffering from a punitive system that pits disenfranchised groups against each other.
You have long been interested in and involved in exercising your civic duty regarding social justice and law enforcement. Why is it important for the average person to become more involved in this branch of our government?
We are theoretically members of a democracy, yet I see very little enthusiasm for the effort it takes to stay informed and contribute to the ever-changing dialogue about what we value and where we want to go. People feel hopeless about how to make change despite knowing that something is not working.
Law enforcement policy can define what we are able to do with our lives. I know many people genuinely concerned about human rights, liberties, and suffering who are trapped in prisons for reasons that most of the rest of society would find unbelievable. Anyone can end up in jail, even without violating a law, and we need mass participation in crafting policies that best serve us all. We also need the community to witness problematic interactions with the system and then raise questions if we are to improve our efforts to make peace.
Why do you think many people don’t become involved in shaping and tweaking law enforcement and social justice policy specifically?
Common wisdom says don’t talk to cops. Few people desire any interaction with law enforcement. I believe that the people who the system is failing most dramatically may feel a sense of trauma when in the vicinity of an officer of the law. There are also many examples of abusive officers harassing and retaliating against those who take on difficult efforts to change the way law enforcement agencies operate.
On the other side of the spectrum, people who have virtually no exposure to the criminal justice system because they live in neighborhoods with little crime or police presence have a distorted view of the system, probably informed by dramatic television shows that sensationalize violent criminals and the heroic efforts of law enforcement to save the day. Those people may be unaware that the majority of so-called criminals are nonviolent offenders with few resources to overcome the lifelong impacts of a poor choice.
Besides increasing personal awareness of the systems we have in place, and turning up to vote, in what ways can the common citizen exercise his/her civic duty with regards to law enforcement and the justice system?
We can take responsibility for making important choices that are available to us, like taking the keys away from a drunk driver. Such actions do not necessarily have to result in legal fees and repeated court visits. A clear and honest directive from the community can guide a rational person to change behavior. When we work together—and it really does take work—I believe that we can create a safe and supportive society.