Over the last couple of months, we’ve highlighted the ways scholars, activists and journalists work to further social justice by shifting the public policy framework from one of “punishment” to “public health,” or P2PH. As we’ve shown, the research is clear that our policy of mass incarceration of the past 30 years damages our society. Today, we bring it all together.
The P2PH Information Guide is designed to bring together scholarship, activist strategies, and digital media tools to help you create your own social justice campaign.
Our goal with bringing this all together is to create a practical, resource-rich, all-in-one introduction to start a social justice digital campaign, whether you are an activist on the ground, a journalist writing a story or an academic who may want to connect your research to creating a more just society.
We hope that the Information Guide will help you reach you more people by integrating some of the most widely used social networks into your social justice campaign, your reporting, and your research or your classroom projects.
Infographics, a blend of solid statistics and compelling graphic design, can help shift the debate on important social issues like gun violence. Our current series examines the ways that policy approaches rooted in criminalization might shift if they were re-framed as public health issues instead. In many ways, gun violence is the best example of how our criminalization has not solved a problem that seriously harms peoples’ health. As previous posts here have noted, the data on gun ownership and gun violence can be daunting. Infographics can help clarify what the patterns are, and what the harm to health really is, like this one:
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
This inforgraphic was created using the web-based tool Visual.ly, which is among the best tools available for telling compelling stories with data.
Our series on “Punishment to Public Health” continues. This week, we turn our attention to gun violence as a public health issue. In many ways, this is a key example of the way that our usual policies of criminalization around guns have failed us as a society.
Currently, our response to guns and gun policy is one that oscillates between a punitive criminalization of some gun owners and a staunch, Second Amendment defense of other gun owners. How might society be changed if our approach to guns and gun violence were reframed as a public health issue, like seat belts or smoking?
In a recent piece, “Boxed In: How a Criminal Record Keeps you Unemployed for Life,” Kai Wright, editorial director at Colorlines and a contributor to The Nation, takes an in-depth look at the impact of a criminal record on future employment. In our ongoing effort to curate conversations between journalists, academics and activists around social justice issues for broad audiences, we partnered with TechChange and invited Kai Wright, Professor William Gallo and Glenn E. Martin to have a conversation about the connections between criminalization, unemployment and health, moderated by JustPublics@365 Digital Fellow Heidi Knoblauch.
In this extended discussion (1:55), our panel of experts Kai Wright (@Kai_Wright), William (Bill) Gallo, Professor of Public Health at The Graduate Center, CUNY and Hunter College, and an expert in the health consequences of unemployment, and Glenn E. Martin (@glennEmartin), is vice president of development and public affairs of Fortune Society, a New York-based prisoner re-entry advocacy group, each discuss how journalists, academics and activists approach the same issue from different vantage points but with a shared goal of creating a more just society.
The rate of women who are incarcerated, whether in prison or jail, is increasing. According to the ACLU, more than 200,000 women are currently in jail or prison, and another 1 million are under the control of the probation and parole system.
While many of the demographics for women in prison parallel those of men – that is, they are disproportionately black and poor – a closer look reveals another story. Women bring a gendered life experience with them to incarceration. And, being gendered ‘woman’ in this society often means a series of difficult life circumstances and hardships, like physical or sexual abuse in childhood or as an adult. Incarceration places the additional burdens of isolation, humiliation, and systemic marginalization to these gendered life experiences.
It is precisely because of their gendered life experiences prior to incarceration that women need gender-based interventions in order to re-enter their communities and rejoin their families.
Most likely to have been convicted of a drug-related offense.
From fragmented families that include other family members who also have been involved with the criminal justice system.
Survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse as children and adults.
Individuals with significant substance abuse problems.
Individuals with multiple physical and mental health problems.
Unmarried mothers of minor children.
Individuals with a high school or general equivalency diploma (GED) but limited vocational training and sporadic work histories.
One in three One can hardly talk (intelligently) about women in prison without talking about childhood trauma and physical and sexual abuse.
Earlier this year, the Correctional Association of New York – a 170-year-old advocacy organization that leads efforts to protect and advance the rights of incarcerated women and their families – published the following facts about women and the criminal justice system:
At least one in three girls in the United States is sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18.
Women in prison are twiceas likely as women in the general public to report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse.
Nationally, more than 37% of women in state prisons have been raped before incarceration.
90% of women incarcerated at Bedford Hills reported suffering physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
82% of women at Bedford Hills reported having a childhood history of severe physical and/or sexual abuse.
Yet another casualty of the war on drugs, most women are behind bars because of non-violent drug-related offenses. Much of their substance abuse is generally understood as “self-medication”, a device to help them cope with the aftershocks of traumatic childhood experiences – such as, in many cases, parental incarceration. In addition, the flood of crack cocaine that hit urban areas in the 1980s increased women’s experience of another kind of sexual trauma, street-level prostitution – a mainstay survival strategy for women addicts along with low-level drug dealing and petty property crimes.
The recent case of Marissa Alexander, sentenced to 20 years in a Florida prison for firing warning shots into the ceiling in an attempt to fend off her abusive husband, brought the national spotlight to the fate of many women who dare defend themselves and their children from their abusers. Marissa’s appeal was successful and she has been granted a new trial – although she has been incarcerated since 2010. The Correctional Association has been spearheading the campaign to pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would change New York State laws that require long, harsh sentences for survivors who protect themselves from an abuser’s violence.
Over 2.3 million children in the United States currently have a parent who is incarcerated in the jail or prison system and over 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration in their lifetime. The social and health risks and outcomes that parental incarceration has on children include increased stress, family disruption, feelings of abandonment, traumatic separation, loneliness, stigma, unstable childcare arrangements, strained parenting, reduced care giving abilities upon reunification, and home, school, and neighborhood moves.
Visitation with children in prison is not an option for most mothers in prison for the duration of their time behind bars and, on average, the children of incarcerated mothers will live with at least two different caregivers during the period of their incarceration. More than half will experience separation from their siblings.
Upon release from incarceration, reuniting with the incarcerated parent with his or her children is often desirable; however, the actual impact of the reunification process on children and families merits further investigation. Reunions often causes stress to both parent and children because for better or for worse it constitutes a disruption of the status quo, and as such demands that both adults and children adapt to new household dynamics, especially if children had previously been placed in foster care. Bonds broken by incarceration are not easily mended, and children may experience difficulty in forming meaningful attachments for the rest of their lives.
Generally lacking adequate job skills, most women have trouble supporting a family upon their release from prison, and the communities to which they return are unprepared to receive them. And after serving their time, a woman’s criminal record may bar them, through law or practice, from accessing vital resources, such as employment; public housing; welfare benefits; food stamps; financial assistance for education. These post-conviction penalties constitute an ongoing and self-perpetuating additional layer of punishment that endures far beyond their prison sentence.
Designing programs for impact According to the Women’s Prison Association, programs aimed at supporting women returning from prison must take account of the family responsibilities women bear. Programs should be designed with the understanding that women and their families are often burdened with conflicting and inflexible requirements of multiple agencies. Criminal justice, welfare and child welfare agencies may set competing or conflicting goals and conditions for women, while limiting or denying access to essential services needed to stabilize and maintain the family unit.
Family-focused Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs such as Drew House in Brooklyn, NY, have been successful at providing selected women charged with felonies and their children with the tools and the chance to strengthen these families without compromising public safety. However, the need to collect and coherently use women-centered data when addressing incarcerated women remains crucial for the relevance and success of any intervention.
~This post was co-authored by Alice Cini and Stephanie Hubbard. Alice Cini is a social justice advocate and Social Work Fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s From Punishment to Public Health Initiative. You can follow her on Twitter @CinikAl. Stephanie Hubbard is a public health professional and advocate for youth and humans rights at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
This post is part of the Monthly Social Justice Topic Series on From Punishment To Public Health (P2PH). If you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to P2PH or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “P2PH Series.”
This week I interviewed gabriel sayegh, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York policy office. In this interview, we talk about municipal drug strategies in Canada and Europe and explore opportunities for New York to implement these types of municipal-drug strategies.
What are municipal drug strategies?
Municipal drug strategy is simply a city-based strategy for approaching the problems of drugs and that when you have a situation of opening our drug market as an example or drug-related disorder, cities are often the first jurisdictions that have to address and deal with those problems. Of course, not every element of drug use is a problem. That’s not the case at all but there are instances particularly in cities when drug use can become deeply problematic, either because of overdose fatalities or the transmission of HIV and AIDS or drug related crime or disorder related to open drug markets or public drug consumption. Continue reading →
Can you share a bit about how your research speaks to issues of criminalization and public health?
I guess I set out to study public health, in a sense, but certainly not criminalization. In the process of writing my last book “Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination,” I discovered while doing that research that members of the Black Panther Party were involved in a legal campaign, an activist campaign, to block funding to a proposed research center at UCLA in the early 1970s, 1972 specifically. This center was to be called The Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence, and it was being proposed at a time where there was a lot of public anxiety and public discourse around violence in American society. It was a time during which the covers of Time magazine and Life magazine were posing the question “What are we going to do about this scourge of violence in our society?” One of the answers that arises, or response to this moral panic, is this proposal for this center at UCLA.
The center is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, that I don’t delve in too much into in the book but is worth noting in our conversation, is that the Center is being proposed underneath the umbrella of Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA, which still exists, and it’s at a moment where psychologists and psychiatrists are in effect working to make their disciplines more scientific. Now, it’s common place for a colleague in psychology departments to do research using MRI, and these sorts things it was uncommon. It was a moment in the evolution of psychology and psychiatry that it was becoming more scientific. Part of how it was becoming more scientific at this UCLA project is that they were looking almost solely to biological and physiological causes for violent behavior. They were looking at endocrine levels. They were looking at genes. They were doing a proposed study that was going to look into violence in the XYY chromosome. There’s a study that was proposed to look at, the hypothesis was “are women more or less violent at different moments in their menstrual cycle.” There were a couple of proposals that began from the assumption that Black and Latino boys and men were biologically prone to be violent. It was criminalizing in two ways. One the one hand, it assumed that there were two kind of pools (there are lots of different research project that would have been housed in this violence center, but one of the projects was planning to look at populations to test prisoners, primarily Black and Brown prisoners, to see if there was something effectively wrong with their brains; if there was brain pathology that was why they were violent. These were people who were already incarcerated and institutionalized, so the assumption there was that there was a link between biology, brain pathology, and violence.
On the other hand, there was another study that proposed to look at Black and Brown boys in the Los Angeles public school district with the implication being that these boys were on their way to being criminals. So, can we intervene? Let’s look at their brains before things go bad, or maybe they’re just natural born criminals and things will already go bad. The interesting thing is that at least some of these research projects are obviously about ideas about who are criminals, who are natural born criminals, in a way that goes back to Lambroso in the 19th century, this idea that some people are inherently bad seeds. On the other hand, and this goes to the public health piece, it was articulated in the proposal in a train around health care and health issues, wanting a healthier society and that the justification for doing it was more social health and social well-being.
How has criminalization and mass incarceration affected the lives of people in your research?
My research has been among, this for this book in particular, both health activists who are professionals and health activists who are lay experts or lay people. It’s less the health piece, but it’s more that they’re activists that have led to criminalization and mass incarceration being significant parts of their lives.
I write about the Black Panther Party. As we know from the historical record, as we know from the media and the like, that the federal government, the US Government, made it it’s mission to really decimate the Black Panther Party’s ranks. The counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO, went about the work of decimating the ranks of the Black Panther Party and really just diminishing their spirit through many means. They planted news stories and they shaped public perception about the party. One of the things that people often ask me is “Why haven’t we heard any of this stuff about the Black Panther Party’s self-activism?” One of the answers I suggest is that the COINTELPRO was successful in shaping media frame around the Panthers even for those who might have been sympathetic. The federal government’s work of framing the party also did the work of shaping our national memory of them.
There’s that piece. Part of it was also that, under the banner of then-governor Reagan being a law-and-order governor and a backlash to the activism of the 60′s, there was a, effectively, war on activists although it was never named. We had the war on cancer and we had the war on poverty, but there was certainly also a war on activists.
This meant that many of the people who were involved in the Black Panther Party and other activist organizations from the time went to jail on trumped up charges or went to jail perhaps on legitimate charges, but served or continued to serve disproportionate sentences. People have been in jail or in solitary confinement for crimes that they were convicted of in a legal process that somewhat questionable for 30, 40 years. One of the legacies of the Black Panther Party and the way that they responded happens in this cauldron of expansion of mass incarceration and the criminalization of activism as an excuse for doing that.
Just to give you an example of how things have changed in the last 4 decades or so, the activists that I write about would basically set up a storefront health clinics, for example, or they would set up the headquarters of Black Panther offices at storefronts. These sorts of things. People ask me now, “Could they do this now?” The only legacy of this work that was able to continue on in the same way, although there’s lots of legacies of the Black Panthers self-activism, is the Common Ground Health Clinic that springs up after Hurricane Katrina. I argue that the only reason that it was even able to happen is because the entire health care and criminal justice infrastructure of the city had completely collapsed.
The Common Ground Health Clinic was started by a former Black Panther, and a nurse, and another activist. Three days after Hurricane Katrina comes through, but within 6 months, the Common Ground Health Clinic had become an NGO. There was a lot of pressure from both state and federal agencies for them to get licensing and these sorts of things. So, for the most part, the Black Panther activism that I write about, worked against the grain of being public health authorities. They actually resisted and rejected any effort for them, for the most part, to get licensing and accreditation from local or state agencies. There was certainly the place in Chicago where there was a series of lawsuits that was trying to get the Black Panthers to go to be under the auspices of the public health authority in that city.
But what happens now? The Hurricane Katrina Common Ground Collective Clinic is, I think, anomalous because Hurricane Katrina, a natural and unnatural disaster, was a bit anomalous. You couldn’t pull this work off today because if you open a storefront clinic, it would be shut down by police authorities in a day or two. I don’t think could make a go of it. I think one of the enduring legacies of this criminalization of activism is (just to look at activism at a place in New York City today); I participated, for example, last March and our colleague Jessie Daniels was there as well. I was there with her in the silent March against stop and frisk practices in New York City. That was up and down along parts of Fifth Avenue.
In order to pull off that March, the activists had to go to City Hall. They had to file a permit. They had to get permission from the state. They had to tell the mayor’s office or the police department between which blocks they would walk on Fifth Avenue. They had to tell the mayor’s office and the police department at which times the protest would take place. That creates a different kind of activism. Could you imagine if during the civil rights movement, you had to go to Bull Connor, a notorious racist police officer, and tell him that you’re going to do a sit-in between these days or you’re going to hold a March at this time between these days. It would have been impossible. But because one of the responses to the population of activists that I studied in the 60′s and 70′s has been the criminalization of activism, we no longer can even imagine organic activism excepting the Occupy movement in recent years.
I’m going to throw 3 questions at you. What are your thoughts on policy approaches that draw from public health rather than criminal justice? Are there any examples of policy approaches that draw from public health rather than criminal justice? If so, do you think these are better or just reproduce the same systems of inequality?
Those are tough questions I think because it depends on the population. In Sociology, Peter Conrad, among others, have developed and elaborated this idea of medicalization. In a classic book Peter Conrad and his coauthor write about the process of medicalization moving a behavior or a condition from the category of sin or stigma to illness. That illness allows people to take what a person would call a social role. It allows people to sometimes get sympathy and get resources. There’s a whole suite of social actions that come into play when someone is identified as having an illness and being a patient and being more sympathetic.
I think that to put something in a public health frame rather than a criminal frame ideally allows this to happen for people. If someone is a drug addict and struggling with drug addiction, ideally for us to say as a society and as physicians and activists, this type of person is suffering with a disease and we shouldn’t stigmatize the behavior. We need to use the whole apparatus of public health resources to help this person.
The classic medicalization story is alcoholism. Alcoholism going from being a crime or a sin to being a condition where people can say “I’m an alcoholic” and they’re in that healing process and these sorts of things. However, and I argue this a little bit in the Panther book when talking about health issues, I think if a population is already so deeply stigmatized like particularly poor African-Americans and poor African-American males so that they’re almost like a caste in thinking about the lack of social mobility in India. The shift from criminalization to medicalization doesn’t offer that transition that I’m talking about necessarily.
For some poor, marginalized population, they’re so over-determined by criminal stigma and racism, effectively, that that window, that threshold to medicalization that might offer public support, resources, sympathy, a new social role is not available to them. I think that, and this is going to end our conversation on a down note, but the down note is to just accept that that’s true and not look to the public health arena as the panacea for social progress. I just think there are, fundamentally, groups for whom medicalization doesn’t work in the same way.
We need to work on the bigger issue of stigma. If you have a group of people who are like a caste; who are considered subhuman, a-human, always criminal, beyond help, undeserving; the move to a public health frame alone is not going to work. I think that that can be part of the piece, the move from criminalization to public health, but the larger work needs to be around a human rights struggle that awakens the awareness and the humanity of all of us.
A major focus of JustPublics@365 is bringing together academics, activists and journalists in ways that promote social justice, civic engagement and greater democracy. What sort of ‘lessons learned’ do you have from your experience entering a terrain more frequently trod by activists and journalists?
I think one answer comes out of my research and one that comes out of my experience working with JustPublics@365. As a researcher I learned that the way that we as a society treat activists, and treated this activist population that I worked with in particular, has consequences for what we can know about the world. It took me a very long time to have access to some of the people that I have interviews with in my book, in part because they have been so mistreated by other researchers; they had been so mistreated by other forms of authority: police authority, physicians. As a researcher, I couldn’t just go in and say, “I’m a young professor at Yale. Let me interview you.”
Most other places in the world, if you say “I’m professor XY from XY of the institution, that opens doors for you.”. But in activist circles, that often closes doors. What that meant is that I had to build long-term, sustained, still-existing-today relationships with the people I wanted to speak with for my book. These had to become more than just me parachuting down, extracting information and resources, and parachuting out.
These were long conversations that continue on. I’ve been happy to receive feedback about my book from the people I’ve spoke with and receive feedback from them. I think that’s one lesson. One lesson is that the structural balances in society are what they are. I know enough not to say that my structural relationship with working class activists is equal. We’re not equal in that way, but to the extent that we can try to have egalitarian relationships with the people that we work with, we need to try to do that.
I think organizations like the Panther Party offered really interesting ways for thinking about that. By necessity, they had to collaborate with doctors and nurses, nursing students, medical students to do their clinics. They didn’t have enough manpower or expertise to pull off a nationwide network of health clinics by their own, but they vetted everyone who worked with them. You couldn’t just come in and say, “Oh, I’m a medical resident at Harvard. Let me come and work in your clinic.” The party wanted to know what your political aspirations were, what your theory of social justice was. They wanted to know if you had read Franz Fanon, if you had read John Hope Franklin, if you had read Malcolm X, and often demanded that you do so. I think that we need to think about these as wholesome relationships that come with responsibilities and obligations on all sides.
More recently, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel that sets public health with Lillian Guerra, whose an editor at The Nation, gabriel Sayegh from the Drug Policy Alliance, and Glenn Martin who’s from an organization for formally incarcerated folks. I wasn’t sure, sitting down with these people who do work that’s a lot more contemporary, where the Black Panther piece would fit, but the round table (you’re never sure how these things are going to turn out when people are speaking, in some ways, informally), was very enlightening.
It was really challenging me to think about what this historical story meant for now. I think as scholars, you don’t have to justify why a historical work matters. We inherently think as scholars that a type of work that tells a new story or allows us to see the world anew, has inherent value. I think sitting in a conversation with two activists and a journalist really forced me to think of the “now” of the project.
The criminalization of activism now, that we talked about previously, that would make it impossible to have an organization like the Black Panthers to do the health activist work that they were doing, to do it now. Or to think about all that has changed with regard to the full-scaling up of mass incarceration in such a way that you might not even have in-community enough people and leadership to sustain the activist communities that you did 40 years ago.
For me, as a researcher-scholar-activist, the most important takeaway from that experience was to always, not in a present tense sense, everything from the past doesn’t have some residence in the present, but to think about those places where it does and where the work can be used in the presence of making a better world today.
This post is part of the Monthly Social Justice Topic Series on From Punishment To Public Health (P2PH). If you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to P2PH or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at email@example.com with the subject line, “Stop-and-Frisk Series.”
Today begins our new month-long social justice series called From Punishment to Public Health. In this series we will explore how public health might offer a more humane and just approach to social ills than the current approach that is based on criminalization.
Is this the best response to social ills? Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison, Creative Commons Attribution
Since at least the 1970s, the response to drug use has been one that emphasized punishment and criminalization. The punishment framework has shaped the collective response to drug use for the past thirty years, in the US and globally. Catch phrases like “lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” three strikes you’re out, and “let them rot in jail,” have characterized this time period and this attitude toward drug use.
More recently, the reliance on criminalization has been giving way to an approach that is more rooted in a public health. For example, in 2013, US Attorney General proposed moving away from mandatory minimum sentences for drugs. And, as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) – colloquially known as “Obamacare” – goes into effect, an estimated 32 million Americans will have new access to drug treatment programs. Outside the US, other countries are moving to legalize drugs (such as Portugal, Uruguay) and closing prisons due to lack of inmates (such as the Netherlands).
How are these policy changes transforming the lives of everyday people? Are public health approaches to the criminalization of drugs really better or do they simply expand control over citizens? Through a variety of knowledge streams (e.g., podcasts, data visualizations, and blog posts) we will host a month-long conversation between academics, activists and journalists about the shift from punishment to public health and if that moves us closer to a more just society. As we did with the stop-and-frisk series, at the close of this series we’ll pull all these resources together in an all-in-one guide that you can download for your own use.
In the coming weeks, we’ll also curate a mix of academics, activists, and journalists talking about how to address this complicated social justice issue. To open this series, we will feature the following:
blog post tomorrow from Ernie Drucker, PhD (John Jay College-CUNY and Columbia-Mailman), author of A Plague of Prisons, who leads an initiative called Punishment to Public Health (P2PH) from which we take the name of this series.
The aim of JustPublics@365 is to foster just the innovative work that can foster connections between academics, activists and journalists who are working to address some of the pressing social problems of our time. From where we sit in the heart of New York City, criminalization is at the top of the list of pressing social problems because of the deleterious effects it has on the democratic life of the city and the nation.
So, we offer this series on Punishment to Public Health as another case study of how we might reimagine scholarly communication for the public good.
Click here for more information about our Monthly Social Justice Topic Series.
If you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to P2PH or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “Stop-and-Frisk Series.”