April 3rd, 2019:

“Dismantling Systemic Inequity in Criminal Justice and Health”


Panel 1:
“No Health = No Justice in the Community”

The first panel, “No Health = No Justice in the Community,” was moderated by Deborah Reid, Senior Health Policy Attorney at the Legal Action Center, and included panelists: Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University; Keith Brown, Director of Health and Harm Reduction at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice; Kassandra Frederique, the New York State Director at Drug Policy Alliance; and Moki Macías, Executive Director of the Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative. Panelists discussed systemic racism in and the intersectionality of the criminal justice and health care systems, as well as policies that focus on treatment versus punishment. Dr. Bassett stated, “At the root of punitive responses to drug use is the idea that substance use disorders represent a moral failure. We need treatment everywhere, and we need to acknowledge how racism and stigma have impacted our health care systems, leading to limited and overregulated treatment.” Ms. Frederique also reminded the room that, “As we build the ‘No Health = No Justice’ conversation, we have to recognize not only the role that structural racism plays in health and justice, but the role that whiteness plays. We have to recognize that whiteness dictates policy because white safety is often a priority first.” Panelists also spoke to building a health system that actually serves peoples’ needs and utilizing a harm reduction approach that does not mandate behavior but instead centers peoples’ dignity and choice. Ms. Macías posed the question, “How do we create spaces that treat people with love and dignity, so they see them as safe spaces and choose them?” Mr. Brown shared important points about the co-opting of language and strategies in this work, and that we all need to be cognizant that “public health” is not synonymous with “equitable health.” He also noted that the current crisis is an overdose crisis – not an “opioid crisis.”

Panel 2:
“No Health = No Justice After Incarceration”

Panel II, “No Health = No Justice After Incarceration,” was moderated by Marissa Dodson, Public Policy Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights and included panelists: Benny Lee, CEO/Founder of the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated; Dr. Lisa Puglisi, Director of the Transitions Clinic in New Haven, CT and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Yale University; Lamont Bryant, Community Health Worker at Transitions Clinic in Brooklyn; and Ruby Welch, Founder and Director of F.E.L.O.N. (Formerly Incarcerated Empowered Leaders Overcoming Negative Stigmas). This panel focused on the crucial involvement of those with lived experience in reform movements and some of the specific barriers faced by those in reentry and/or recovery. Mr. Lee asked the audience, “When do our wrongs end and our rights begin?” speaking about his own experience being out of prison for 35 years and still facing barriers that restrict him from certain jobs, spaces, and rights. Ms. Welch echoed this sentiment and added that the trauma women face inside and outside of the criminal justice system is often even more severe than their male counterparts, as she so powerfully shared her own lived experience. Mr. Bryant spoke to the importance of individuals with these lived experiences leading health and justice equity efforts because it is essential to representing and building trust with the communities that are the most impacted. Dr. Puglisi commented on the multiple impediments individuals in reentry face to receiving immediate health care and how this gap has truly deadly consequences - an individual is 12 times more likely to die, and 130 times more likely to die of an overdose, in the first two weeks after release from incarceration than people in the general population (Health and Justice: Bridging the Gap).

Afternoon Session: “The Sickness of Racism and Inequality”

The afternoon session began with a talk between Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Clinical Social Medical Sciences at Columbia University and Professor of Urban Policy and Health at the New School, and Dr. Samuel Kelton Roberts, Jr., Associate Professor of History at Columbia University’s School of Arts and Sciences, Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and esteemed Legal Action Center board member. Dr. Fullilove presented on the United States’ history of fracturing policies and practices including urban renewal, deindustrialization, and planned shrinkage that preceded mass incarceration. Dr. Fullilove and Dr. Roberts discussed how these policies purposefully disempowered working class, black and brown communities and reinforced racial disparity. 

Panel 3:
“Achieving Health and Justice”

The third and final panel titled “Achieving Health and Justice” explored how we can bring change to scale, emphasizing collective action, alliance-building, and organizing at local, state, and national levels to catalyze reform. Each of the panelists described the programs they work on as examples of what on-the-ground efforts can look like. Ivelyse Andino, Founder/CEO of Radical Health, works to identify and define what health means to different groups of people and raise up peer leaders with the knowledge they need to challenge the system and build health equity. Diane M. Jones, Director of Special Programs and Field Education at Family & Medical Counseling Service, Inc. in Washington, DC, runs a syringe exchange program staffed and designed by formerly incarcerated individuals, where she prioritizes workforce development and a harm reduction approach. Marilynn Winn, Executive Director of Women on the Rise in Atlanta, works to teach directly impacted women advocacy skills like how to communicate their experiences in the criminal justice system directly to elected officials, including overcoming the fear of speaking to people in power and realizing that their experiences are not only relevant but indispensable to creating more just systems. Ms. Winn also spoke about her part in the fight to close Atlanta city jail and repurpose it into a wellness and freedom center with wraparound services and coordinated care. Jawanza James Williams, Lead Organizer with VOCAL-New York, stressed how powerful it is to actively affect change and stated, “We have to transform ourselves and the world, otherwise there will be none.” Moderator Dr. Kimá Joy Taylor, Managing Principle of Anka Consulting LLC, also reminded us all of the importance of self-care and encouraged each panelist to share what they do to care for themselves in this ongoing work.