Join us Sept 10 at 7:30 pm for Women’s Suffrage Trivia Night!

Please join us on September 10 for a fun evening with candidates running for office in Dutchess County. We’ll be celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage with trivia questions about women in power.

Your suggested donation of $25 will help women running for office in our County. And when women win, we all win!

A few things to note:
This is a virtual event. When you purchase a ticket, we’ll follow up via email with the Zoom info. To attend, click https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ddwctrivia

If you want to attend but are unable to donate at this time, please send an email to president@ddwc.org and we’ll add you to the registration list.

Call to Action: Rescind the Jail Bond

In 2016, Dutchess County had an unprecedented opportunity to change what a county jail is and how a criminal justice system addresses its inmates. The county legislature chose the most expensive and least effective way to seize that opportunity.

On March 21 2016, the Dutchess County Legislature voted to approve a $192 million bond to build a new sheriff’s office and upgrade the county jail to 569 beds: the most expensive jail related project in New York State in recent history. The plan, named the Justice and Transition Center, was unveiled on February 4 2016 and was rushed to a vote after five town hall meetings.

To those concerned that the plan did not include funding for the services and programs needed to reduce incarceration, county officials asserted that we would receive grants for these services as the county would be acclaimed as a “model for the nation” in criminal justice reform. Instead we are the poster child of fiscal irresponsibility and social injustice.

In 2015, Dutchess had a significantly higher rate of incarceration than the state average. 70% of the inmates in January 2016 were unable to make bail and were awaiting sentencing – significantly worse than the state average. Over 70% of the inmates had mental health or drug abuse issues that would be more humanely served in a therapeutic setting.

Despite one of the largest outpourings of citizen speakers protesting the jail bond at the March county legislature meeting– going on close to midnight – the bond was approved. All but one Democratic legislator voted against it; their opposition has proven prescient.

Unfortunately we have already spent about $34 million of the bond on a new upscale sheriff’s office with a state-of-the-art fitness facility, one of the most expensive sheriff office renovations in the state. What county-wide problem did we solve by building a mega-sized sheriff’s office?

Fortunately, approximately $155 million allocated to the jail has not yet been spent. We need to immediately redirect these remaining funds to a more just use.

Since the vote to approve the bond, our environment is far different than it was in 2016. The New York State Bail Reform law significantly decreased the number of inmates awaiting sentencing. In May 2020 the average inmate population was 146, far lower than the projected 569 in the bond. And this number can be further reduced in two ways: by diverting those with mental health or addiction issues and by decreasing the time from arrest to arraignment.

The County Comptroller audited various criminal justice programs and found that many alternatives to incarceration were more cost effective than housing non-violent offenders in jail. Individual offenders with substance abuse addiction or mental illness are better served in the community with appropriate restrictions, without any increase in recidivism.

Dutchess County has a larger percentage of inmates awaiting arraignment, trial, or sentencing. In 2016, 70% of inmates in the Dutchess County jail were unsentenced; in May 2020 the percentage was approximately the same. Dutchess County has made no improvement in this potential violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial. The average percentage for other county jails in New York is 55%. If Dutchess only met the state average our current jail population would be less than 120.

The jail plan has been downsized by the county from its original design of 569 beds to 328 beds and the time line for completion of the new jail has been delayed four years from April 2020 to April 2024. According to a May 2020 comptroller report, the estimated cost is approximately the same at $147 million and the timeline for construction is estimated to start in December 2020. Even this revised plan is totally unrealistic. County officials cannot lay the blame for this ill-conceived plan on the State Commission of Corrections (SCOC) as they attempted to do in 2016.

As the looming financial crisis of COVID-19 hangs over us, it is irresponsible to saddle taxpayers with this unnecessary burden for years to come. In addition to being financially irresponsible, it would be incredibly tone deaf and offensive to continue with this project in light of the serious need for racial justice and criminal justice reform. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that our justice system disproportionately and severely impacts black and brown people. While Blacks represented approximately 11% of the Dutchess County population in 2016, they were 39% of the jail population. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country, from a wide array of demographics, are in the streets saying ENOUGH!

The DDWC has a long history of working on jail reform. Since our founding in 2005, we have proposed many changes to criminal justice system in Dutchess County. We organized the protests at the town hall meetings and at the March 21 meeting of the county legislature. Our opposition to the 2016 plan has been vindicated. We call on the county legislature to immediately rescind the bond authorization until the county develops a plan that more equitably supports the needs of all the county residents. The plan should be developed in concert with the relevant community agencies and organizations that are working on alternatives to incarceration. We are willing to be part of that process.

We have the chance to do better and we must take this opportunity to act.

DDWC Stands Against Racial Injustice and for Positive Change

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Dimas Diaz. Stephanie Quiroz. Jimmy Atchinson. These are just five of the 1,038 Americans who have been killed by police over the past 12 months. All five were unarmed and all were people of color. Indeed, according to data from the Washington Post, African-Americans are more than twice as likely and Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than white Americans. How do we overcome systemic racism? How do we stay hopeful in the wake of so much tragedy?

We look for signs of change that we’ve never seen before such as the police reforms just announced in Albany, including rolling back Rule 50a that kept private the record of complaints filed and disciplinary actions taken against police officers. We look at the diversity of the hundreds of thousands of people peacefully protesting in the streets, and the now overwhelming majority of Americans who favor stronger gun control laws, and the success of books like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility and Stacey Abrams’ Our Time is Now.

Most of all, we act in our communities, supporting better funded schools, youth sports and arts programs, better health, social and transportation solutions for the working poor, disabled or elderly, taking the time to welcome and talk to our neighbors regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. We act by encouraging and voting for progressive Democratic lawmakers, particularly women and people of color, who will better represent all of the members of our community and fight for equal economic opportunities, civil rights and environmental justice.

This is in keeping with the mission of the Dutchess Democratic Women’s Caucus to encourage, support and vote for Democratic women, including women of color. If you want to make a difference, vote for candidates who believe in what you do, who stand up for the oppressed and the underrepresented. If you want to make a difference, contact us about how you can get involved, including how you can run for office.

The time for change has never been more important. The time for change is now, starting with your vote in the June 23 primaries. Because Black Lives Matter.

2020 Endorsement of Democratic Candidates

The DDWC Executive Committee is happy to announce its endorsements for the 2020 local elections:

NY State Senate
Karen Smythe (41st district)

NY State Assembly
Didi Barrett (106th)
Laurette Giardano (105th)
Jonathan Jacobsen (104th)
Kevin Cahill (103rd)

Dutchess County Judge
Jessica Segal

Fishkill Town Board
Kenya Gadsden

Mother’s Day 2020

Happy Mother’s Day from DDWC.org!

On behalf of the DDWC Executive Committee, we want to thank the following donors who made a contribution to our Virtual Spring Mother’s Day Fundraiser in honor of all the influential women in their lives:

Mary Benkart in tribute to my mother Patricia Thomas, an elementary school teacher who taught me women can do anything they believe in with their strength compassion and wisdom.

Debra Blalock in tribute to Katherine Mason Blalock who loved her children fiercely and taught us how persevere in even the toughest times.

Clare Brandt in honor of Mary Hannon Williams and Diane Jablonski

Deirdre Burns

Brenda Cagle in honor of my strong, generous mother Crystal McFrederick Knight (from West Virginia, home of the 1st official Mother’s Day)

Eleanor Charwat in honor of Anna Buchholz, my political mentor

Irene Di Maio

Jill Fieldstein in memory of my mother Judi Fieldstein, who was not active, but taught me the importance of voting.

Gayle Garin

Sandra Goldberg

Amber Grant

Shirley Handel

Mary Hathaway in honor of Clare Brandt, DDWC Founding President. I hope she is proud of the success of this wonderful organization.

Janet Houston

Sarah Imboden in honor of Jo Thornton, the best US history teacher on the planet who encouraged me on the path to loving history; and to my stepmother Deb a strong feisty woman and a leader!

Susan Jessup

Beth Kolp in memory of Carol Roper, former New Paltz Town Supervisor and Board Member, died April 24 at age 86. She served in leadership positions in countless other community, church, and cultural organizations and taught for many years at Dutchess Community College. Carol was a model of dynamic, intelligent civic engagement.

Alison Lankenau

Robin Lois

Mary Lunt in tribute to Ellie Charwat, constant champion of important organizations and causes.

Wendy Makenzie

Barbara Markell

Ross Patison

Joan Posner in honor of Elizabeth Posner and Katie Legomsky my daughter and daughter-in-law who are amazing mothers and wonderful role models for their sons.

Tricia Reed

Margaret Ross in honor of my intrepid mother and her remarkable granddaughters.

Amy Rothstein

Donna Salem

Ann Shershin in tribute to Jean Murphy, first woman elected to the Dutchess County Legislature

Julie Shiroishi

Nevill Smythe in honor of the Mothers in my life: mine, Ann Smythe; my mother-in-law Anne Strain; and of course my favorite candidate and soon to be NYS Senator, Karen S. Smythe!!!

Mary Williams in tribute to my mother Marcella Hasson who arrived in New York from Ireland at age 19 in 1929. With a 6th grade education, she worked as a maid to send money home to save the family farm, which is still in our family today.

Latest Update from DDWC

The COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in us having to cancel our annual Mother’s Day Spring Celebration on May 9th. However, everyone at DDWC is thinking about the important women in our lives–mothers, grandmothers, friends, teachers, mentors, lawmakers, bosses, literary role models–who regularly challenge, inspire or comfort us when we need it most. In fact, many of our DWCC friends including Congresswoman Didi Barrett, Congressman Antonio Delgado and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand among others have created video tributes to the women who have influenced them most as part of our virtual Mother’s Day Tribute which begins May 3rd.

You can view new videos each day through May 11th here.

Join us for our annual meeting

January 25, 2020 at 2pm at LaGrange Town Hall, 120 Stringham Rd in Lagrangeville

Short business meeting to approve revisions to the by-laws, elect 2020 officers and at-large members, and approve the 2020 budget. See the details on the Annual Meeting Reports page.

Meet the 2020 Dutchess County women candidates:
Karen Smythe, Candidate for State Senate District 41
Didi Barrett, Assemblymember District 106
Laurette Giardino, Candidate for Assembly District 105
Jessica Segal for Dutchess County Judge
Kenya Gadsden for Fishkill Town Board

Panel Discussion: What’s at Stake in 2020
Legislative Priorities, Headwinds, and Actions

Elections: Beth Soto, Dutchess County Board of Elections – Democratic Commissioner
County: Rebecca Edwards, Dutchess County Legislator District 6, Minority Leader
State: Didi Barrett, Assemblymember, District 106
Federal: Joan Mandle, Executive Director of Democracy Matters

Say NO on the Jail Bond Resolution

Say NO on the Jail Bond Resolution

Dutchess County has an unprecedented opportunity to “change what a county jail is and how a criminal justice system addresses its inmates.”

We will squander that opportunity if we go forward with the current jail bond proposal.

We need a new fiscally responsible plan

County officials assert that if legislators do not approve the plan on March 21 exactly as unveiled on February 4, the State Commission of Corrections (SCOC) will revoke our variance for the PODs and throw the County into financial chaos. This makes no sense. This date needs to be extended to allow the public and legislature adequate time to review alternative plans. Let’s build what we need, not an over-capacity compound.

Jail Handout 2016
A tale of two counties (Ulster vs Tompkins)
Jail presentation Feb 2016

The Dutchess Democratic Women’s Caucus Opposes the Current Jail Bond

Statement by Mary Hannon Williams, DDWC President

Dutchess County has an unprecedented opportunity to “change what a county jail is and how a criminal justice system addresses its inmates.” The bond plan submitted to the legislature on Thursday February 4 is the most expensive and least effective way to seize that opportunity. The proposed plan, at an estimated cost of $192 million, would be the largest capital project ever undertaken by the County and would almost triple our outstanding debt to over $1000 per resident.

County officials assert that the annual debt service cost of $9.9 million would be offset by cost avoidance of $13.6 million and would thus save $5.3 million annually. The savings start in 2021. This assertion is based on questionable assumptions that should be carefully vetted by an independent citizen review.

Why is the plan assuming that the number of inmates will increase? In 2015, the average inmate population as shown in the County presentation was 441, down from 474 in 2014. The current jail bond is for 569 beds. Nationwide, the trend is towards lower rates of incarceration.

From 2005 to 2014, the Dutchess County inmate population increased 43.4%, more than any surrounding county (http://www.scoc.ny.gov/pop.htm). To address this alarming increase, Dutchess County began several alternatives to incarceration (ATI) programs. Much more can be done to decrease our inmate population.

Why is the first phase of the plan a new sheriff’s office? At $36.5 million, this is almost 20% of the total bond cost and does not address the primary problem of inadequate jail facilities. Jail completion is scheduled for April 2020, two years after the completion of the sheriff’s new office.

Why do we have less than 7 weeks to review the extensive materials that support this proposal? February 4 was the first time legislators received the plan and they are expected to vote on March 21. The public was not allowed to ask questions on February 4; instead we need to return on Tuesday February 16 for the External Advisory Committee meeting.

Why is there no alternative to financial chaos? County officials assert that if legislators do not approve the plan exactly as presented on February 4, the State Commission of Corrections (SCOC) will revoke our variance for the temporary modular facility used for housing inmates (PODs) and we will be forced to move our inmates to other jails.

Let’s be clear about the role of the County versus the SCOC. In return for giving the County the variance, the County agreed to construct new permanent correctional space. The current plan includes much more than is needed to honor that commitment.

The SCOC is not asking for a new sheriff’s office or a 36 bed hospital wing with its associated costs and liabilities. The SCOC is not dictating 569 beds; the County decides on the number needed and justifies it to the SCOC.

County officials are promising that we need not worry, trust us, all will be well.

To those concerned about the size of the jail: County officials assert that they can cancel construction of one area and “decommission” another area for other uses. The cost of “decommissioning” is not detailed.

To those concerned that we have not included funding for the services and programs needed to reduce incarceration: County officials assert that we will receive grants as we will be acclaimed a leader in criminal justice reform. Failing that, we can use part of the promised $5.3 million surplus starting in 2021.

Let’s forgo promises and focus on commitments.

Let’s build what we need, not 20% to 35% more. Let’s fund the services and programs we need now to keep people out of jail, not in 2021 after we build an overcapacity compound.

We need a new fiscally responsible alternative plan. Legislators should vote NO on this plan.

The DDWC Jail Committee Releases new report May 1, 2014

Since the first report issued by the DDWC jail committee in September 2013 much has happened to progress with the County administrations plan of building of a new jail.  The jail committee has been diligent in following the County’s actions and researching the issues related to the jail and mass incarceration on a county, state and national level for well over a year.  In light of the impending vote on May 12, 2014 to commit to a new jail by 1/1/2019, the DDWC has issued this addendum to inform the taxpayers about what the County administration is doing.

DDWC Report Addendum April 2014