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Reform Calls Are Renewed On One-Year Anniversary Of Inmate's Death

Courtesy of Beacon Prison Action, Facebook page

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of an inmate at a state prison in Dutchess County. The circumstances surrounding the death are under investigation as friends and family of the man killed continue to push for prison reform.

Samuel Harrell was an inmate at the medium-security Fishkill Correctional Facility, which is in both Beacon and Fishkill, when he allegedly was beaten to death by as many as 20 corrections officers April 21, 2015. The allegation is based upon numerous eyewitness accounts. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Thursday, 10 friends and family members of Harrell launched a five-day hunger strike to call attention to reforms they believe are needed. Dutchess County resident Erik Jensen was a friend of Harrell’s and started the fast in the morning.

“We have four major key points that we would like to see handled immediately, number one being the officers, pending the investigation, at least be relieved of duty in that same block or on that same shift and separated,” Jensen says.

A spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says the department continues to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigations into the case and otherwise cannot comment at this time. Again, here’s Jensen, who is a member of Beacon Prison Action, which formed after Harrell’s death.

“Second of all we would like to see the use of body cameras,” says Jensen.

He says corrections officers who have contact with inmates should wear them. He also mentions wanting to see charges brought in a civil suit filed by Harrell’s family and limited use of solitary confinement. Also to mark the day, Democratic Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner renewed his call for Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady to file homicide charges against the corrections officers allegedly involved in the beating.

“Many months ago, Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady should have pressed charges against the ‘Beat Up Squad’ correctional officers,” says Tyner. “A lot of people call it Fishkill Corruptional Facility, and that’s basically what it is.”

Here’s Grady.

“I can assure you that this office is committed to ensuring that a full, complete and fair investigation is conducted into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of inmate Harrell,” says Grady.

Grady says his office joined with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in September 2015 for a joint investigation and, because the investigation is ongoing, could not comment further. A spokesman for Bharara declined to comment given the investigation. In September, Tyner circulated a letter in the county legislature calling on Grady to file homicide charges in the case and, with Jensen, was outside Grady’s office Thursday referring to that letter.

Family, friends, and prison reform advocates are holding a vigil and rally Saturday. The event will include poetry, music, art and other happenings. Rabbi Brent Spodek of the Beacon Hebrew Alliance will be speaking. He’s concerned with prison reform on a larger scale.

“Saturday is the first day of Passover, the large Jewish celebration of liberation,” Spodek says. “And it’s, I think, powerful and important to note on that day celebrating freedom and liberation that, right now, America incarcerates people, on average, four times the rate of any other country in the world.”

He adds:

“I’m certainly aware that there are bad actors, that there are people who need to be locked up, imprisoned for punishment, for the safety of society as a whole but, I don’t feel that I can, as a religious leader, as a person, in good conscience be part of a society that is locking up people, particularly African-American people, at a faster rate than apartheid-era South Africa did and not say anything about it,” says Spodek.

The vigil and rally are being held near the prison at Memorial Park.

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