Jasmine Cooper, of Unchained, speaks about the importance of packages in New York State prisons to incarcerated people. Citizen Action of New York held rallies across the state, including in Syracuse, in opposition to the ban. Credit: Chris Libonati | libonati@centralcurrent.org

A group of about a dozen organizers and relatives of incarcerated people rallied in Syracuse on Tuesday against New York’s care package ban in state prisons.

Corrections officials earlier this year phased in a ban of packages mailed or brought to visits by family members. The state banned the packages to stop drugs and weapons from being smuggled into state prisons, officials said at the time.

On Tuesday, the organizers and relatives said the ban prevents those incarcerated from getting packages that include fresh fruits and vegetables or other comforting foods. They argued corrections officers, not family members and visitors, are the main source of drugs smuggled into state prisons.

“Let my son have that little bit of comfort in a really terrible place,” said Rhonda Cooks, the mother of a man held at the Onondaga County jail.

Cooks said she kept a connection with her son in prison by sending packages to him. She worries that if he has to go back to prison, she won’t be able to get her son the food or clothes he likes.

While the ban does not prevent relatives from sending clothes or food to inmates, it does require family members to send goods from approved vendors. Those vendors mark up prices and charge shipping costs, organizers said.

Liza Acquah, a Syracuse mother who has one son incarcerated in state prison and another being held at the jail in Jefferson County, said packages were important for maintaining relationships. When her husband was in state prison, Acquah said she brought him one package every month for two years.

“This package ban is not about public safety.” Acquah. “It’s about tearing families apart.”

Citizen Action of New York organized Tuesday’s rally in front of the state office building in on East Washington Street. The group simultaneously held rallies in several other locations across the state, including Westchester, Buffalo, Long Island, New York City, Syracuse and Albany.

Community organizer Jasmine Collins, from the group Unchained, read stories submitted by incarcerated people about the importance of packages.

Unchained, based in Syracuse, organizes against mass incarceration.

This year’s package ban is the second attempt at such a ban in about four years. In 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to put in place a similar ban, but ended it after 10 days because of pushback.

At the time, the group Worth Rises found that prices of certain items sent to inmates would more than double, and that the ban would limit access to healthy food for incarcerated people.

“It harms the health care of incarcerated people, which we as taxpayers will have to deal with,” Collins said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misstated where Liza Acquah’s son is being held. The story stated he is being held at the Onondaga County jail. He is being held at the Jefferson County jail.

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.