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New York State: The Dignity Not Detention Act

A new white paper from students at Cornell’s Brooks School of Public Policy (State Policy Advocacy Clinic) provides a detailed look into immigration detention policies in the state of New York. 

Working under the supervision Prof. Alexandra Dufrense, a member of the GDP’s Executive Committee, the students* present data on a range of worrying practices, many of which reflect trends across the country. The overall objective of the paper is to provide detailed information for the public and policymakers as the state considers the adoption of the proposed Dignity not Detention Act, which would limit the state’s ability to contract out immigration detention operations.   

The United States operates the world’s largest immigration detention system, a significant portion of which operates under contracts between federal and local authorities, as well as through outsourcing to private detention companies. In recent years, seven states have passed legislation limiting these kinds of detention arrangements. New York’s proposed Dignity Not Detention Act (A4354/S306) would prohibit state, county, and local jails from receiving payment for participating in immigration detention or engaging in immigration detention contracts. Existing contracts would not be renewed and private entities would be prohibited from owning or operating an immigration detention facility. 

The new Cornell white paper, The Dignity Not Detention Act: Transforming Immigration Detention Practices in New York State, provides a detailed inventory of immigration detention in New York State from October 2017 to November 2023. It highlights human rights concerns regarding New York’s detention practices and examines the public policy and constitutional arguments regarding the proposed Dignity Not Detention Act.  

Key findings include (see p. 44 of the report for a complete list): 

  • All three facilities that ICE reports to be holding detainees in in New York State are seriously deficient across several inspection categories, including lack of access to visitation and food (Batavia), lack of staff training, suicide prevention, and medical neglect (Clinton/Orange County).
  • There are significant issues in accountability and oversight of detention facilities, as inspections of these facilities are often announced beforehand, and all inspections of NYS facilities found them to meet the acceptability threshold despite clear deficiencies.
  • Unnecessary immigration detention exacts considerable social, psychological, and economic costs on immigrants, their children, families, communities, and New York State.
  • Alternatives to detention like monitoring and case management have been shown to be extremely effective and more humane, while only accounting for 4 percent of the current costs of detention.

The authors of the report conclude: “We recommend that New York adopt the Dignity Not Detention Act. Ending existing detention contracts would disentangle New York from the detention business and demonstrate our state’s commitment to protecting children, families, and communities. Because noncitizens do not have the right to vote, we urge U.S. citizens to stand up for their friends, colleagues and neighbors. If you are a U.S. citizen and a resident of New York State, please contact your state legislators and the Governor’s office to ask them to support the Dignity Not Detention Act.

Read the report here.

* This report was written by Elizabeth Taber, Kate McHale, Melanie Harster, Darshana Subramaniam, Andreas Psahos, Sahithi Jammulamadaka, and Kyle Wolf, an undergraduate student team in the 2023-2024 State Policy Advocacy Clinic at the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University, under the supervision of Alexandra Dufresne, the Director of the State Policy Advocacy Clinic. An additional team of students (M.F., G.L., O.L., and S.T. ). in the Spring 2023 State Policy Advocacy Clinic also contributed to the research and writing of this report. 




Ending Detention New York State United States