October 28, 2021

Protesters: County jail inmates deserve better treatment

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Protesters march Saturday outside the Cortland County Safety building in Cortland. The protest included calls for the release of inmates at risk of the coronavirus in the county jail and advocacy for fair inmate treatment.

Protesters outside the Cortland Count Jail on Saturday called for the release of elderly inmates at risk of coronavirus and to cut the sheriff’s department budget by 50%.

“We need programs. We need services,” Reed Cleland said among 20 protesters. “We need to help the working class people of this city because they deserve to have their voices heard now.”

Cleland, activists from United Voices of Cortland, Cortland County Mutual Aid and others protested Saturday outside the Cortland County Jail in solidarity with prisoners who have been incarcerated during the pandemic.

Participants read a list of demands, along with discussing other inequalities inmates face, before parading around the Cortland County Safety Building, which is attached to the jail, and shouting phrases like “Black Lives Matter” and “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”

Among their demands:

  • Immediately release all elderly inmates and those at risk of COVID-19.
  • Provide personal protective equipment to everyone in the jail.
  • Defund the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office by 50% and allocate the funds to community services selected by a community common council run by local organizations.

The protest occurred simultaneously to similar events in Oneida and Broome counties, said Mecke Nagel, the co-founder of United Voices of Cortland. The event was in support of inmates who Nagel felt weren’t being treated like humans.

This included them not getting PPE.

“We have to get across to the politicians and to the justice system that prisoners are people too,” she said. “They have human rights.”

However, Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said inmates are given masks.

During the demonstration, a separate Christmas raffle fundraiser by Cortland’s Back the Blue group, which supports police and other first responders, was happening a few yards away on the green of Courthouse Park, said group president William “Bud” Diescher.

While there were a few jeers between the two groups as the protesters passed Back the Blue members as they marched around the Cortland County Safety Building, the groups remained separate.

“It’s important to have people come together in solidarity,” Antonio Triana said.

Triana came as he felt incarcerated inmates weren’t given access to services and resources available to people on the outside and wanted to show his support and respect.

Paul Lyman of Cortland said he attended the protest as he was passionate about incarceration issues and police brutality.

While he hoped to see more people attend, overall he was pleased.

“It is what it is and I think coming out is what we should be doing,” he said.

Lyman hoped that the protest would help spur more serious demands that would lead to reallocating money from law enforcement agencies to social services.