George McDonald Responds to NYPD Commissioner

When discussing the early release of nonviolent offenders from prison, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton expressed reservations about the individuals who would benefit, stating, “some people are bad people…and we need to separate the bad people from the good people.” The Doe Fund’s founder and president, George McDonald, responded in the following open letter covered by the New York Daily News:

Commissioner,

Your claim on John Catsimatidis’ radio show— that the early release of nonviolent offenders poses a danger to our communities— was inflammatory and untrue. The people of New York and the families of incarcerated nonviolent offenders deserve a retraction and explanation.

According to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts, long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders neither prevent crimes nor reduce recidivism. In fact, crime fell in 17 states which cut their imprisonment rates from 2002 to 2012. And the public— the people you serve— agree: in a survey of individuals who were victims of crimes, 80 percent said that the length of a nonviolent offender’s sentence was unimportant compared to what the system can do to reduce recidivism.

In some respects, the data which prove you wrong are moot: whether we release nonviolent offenders today or in ten years, they are all coming home, eventually. Instead of figuring out how we can keep them locked up, our leaders should be discussing what we’ll do to bring them home…safely and permanently.

That leadership is what the people of New York expect and demand from the Commissioner of the police department. But your repugnant comment that “some people are just bad people,” was a clear indicator that you have no plans to offer that kind of leadership.

The truth is, the men in our prisons who committed nonviolent offenses aren’t “bad people” — they’re mostly black and Hispanic men who grew up in poverty and made some terrible mistakes. That’s what people do when they spend their lives deprived of education, steady work, and opportunity: they make mistakes.

And yet their punishments, some decades long for using and selling the same drugs you find on Wall Street and university campuses, don’t just take their personal freedom; these sentences ensnare their families and communities in devastating, generational cycles of poverty and incarceration.

Unless we recognize the value within these people and offer them the services, support, and opportunity they need to return to society as productive citizens, we, the people of New York, will bear the costs of their incarceration— moral, social and economic— long after you leave your post.

I can assure you that The Doe Fund will be there, offering the “hand up” of a good paying job and providing the path for a safe journey home. And with or without your help, the citizens of New York— all of them, including and especially the families that incarceration has ripped apart— will continue to work for a stronger, safer, fairer New York City.

George T. McDonald
Founder and President
The Doe Fund

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About Author: The Doe Fund

Founded in 1985, The Doe Fund provides life-transforming services for the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, disenfranchised youth, and people living with AIDS. The organization's flagship Ready, Willing & Able program has helped tens of thousands of individuals achieve permanent self sufficiency through paid work, transitional housing, and employment training.