The Coronavirus Proves It's Time to Rethink Incarceration

Women’s Policy Institute Highlight

In an op-ed for Mic, Women’s Policy Institute alums Eunisses Hernandez and Ivette Alé warned “In Los Angeles, the county with the largest jail system in the country, nearly 17,000 people are ‘caged in brutal conditions, without adequate access to medical care or basic hygiene needs, like soap and water’… The jails currently operate at 136% capacity, exacerbating the spread of disease among an already medically vulnerable population.”

As our society finds ourselves at an historic moment, it’s time to take the first steps toward reimagining a justice system that prioritizes the health and safety of all communities. This month we’re happy that California is already making changes as it  prepares to release 3,500 incarcerated people in the next 60 days and as it modifies speedy trial rules, endorse remote hearings. But this is not enough, we need to take the next step. 

The U.S. has the largest incarcerated population in the world. The critical need for criminal justice reform has only become more clear as the coronavirus continues to impact our families, friends, and communities with those who are currently incarcerated being at especially high risk of infection..  Even before the current crisis, Women’s Foundation California Women’s Policy Institute alums, Eunisses Hernández, Diana Zuñiga, Ivette Alé, and Michaé Pulido were hard at work  to change the way we think about incarceration . 

With over 1000 government and community stakeholders, our two alums created the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group Report: Care First, Jails Last.  The report provides a vision and roadmap for community safety and highlights the ways in which prisons and jails across this country have developed systems that target  people struggling with homelessness, poverty, mental illness, and addiction.  

With 114 recommendations, this report created by community advocates, formerly incarcerated people, county representatives, academics and researchers offers a clear path towards a solution that includes everyone. One that first provides individuals with care and services and turns to  jail only as a last resort. Complete with researched-backed strategies, Care First, Jails Last suggests realistic alternatives to arrest, detention, incarceration and deportation. We need compassionate solution that also prioritizes the reunification of families especially,  cisgender women who identify as mothers and LGBQ+ and TGI parents. In the US, we’ve created the world’s largest and most expensive punishment system, it’s time to build a system that works for our communities not for simply for profit. 

In a time when many of us have the privilege of sheltering in our homes, COVID-19 has revealed the glaring disparities in our system. “Today, there are over 230,000 women incarcerated in jails and prisons, which is a 750% increase from 1980.”  A system that priorities wealthy corporate interests while neglecting others, especially those in our communities that are incarcerated. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is now reviewing the recommendations. As the report authors highlight, “LA County can and should lead the way in building this reimagined system of care and justice—where we reinvest in our neighborhoods, reduce costs and make all of our communities healthy and safe.”

Read the full report and share it with friends.

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