April 3rd, 2019:

“Dismantling Systemic Inequity in Criminal Justice and Health”


On April 3, 2019, the Legal Action Center’s “No Health = No Justice” Campaign convened over 130 advocates, directly impacted people, health care and reentry service providers, policy-makers,  and academics to discuss “Dismantling Systemic Inequity in Criminal Justice and Health” at Columbia University in New York City. Held in partnership with seven Columbia University centers and initiatives-- the Center for Justice, Center for Science and Society, Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Office of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, and the University’s Press Series in Race, Inequality and Health--the convening provided a historical framework for the Campaign and marked the first of a series of stakeholder conversations about how to best advance health, justice, and equity.

“No Health = No Justice” is a multi-state advocacy and organizing campaign to ground decarceration efforts in ensuring that people are no longer prosecuted and criminalized for their health needs but are instead provided with real access to care. The Campaign works to highlight the intersection of historic and ongoing racism in the health care and criminal justice systems and to illustrate the direct link between health inequities and the over-criminalization and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx individuals. Together, these forms of discrimination perpetuate the barriers and prejudice that make life difficult and disempowering for people of color. The detrimental effect on families, communities, and generations is profound, and for far too many, deadly. 

The day was kicked off by our board member, Dr. Sam Kelton Roberts Jr. Associate Professor of History and of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, followed by our President and Director, Paul Samuels and Tracie Gardner, Legal Action Center’s Vice President of Policy Advocacy, and co-leader of “No Health = No Justice.” As Tracie explained, “Unless we acknowledge the deeply ingrained, continuing legacy of slavery and anti-black racism in both our public health and criminal justice systems, we will never make the transformational change that is needed.”

In addition to opening and closing comments to frame the day, and a “fireside chat” to provide the historical context of the work, the No Health = No Justice convening consisted of three panel discussions focused on the link between systemic racism in health care and criminal justice, barriers to health care for people returning home from incarceration, and promising models to promote meaningful access to care (including mental health and substance use disorder care). Additional detail about these discussions can be found here

Dr. Robert Fullilove, Associate Dean for Community and Minority Affairs at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences, and the co-director of the Cities Research Group, closed the convening noting the great importance of understanding this history of structural racism as integral to our current work.

In an effort to truly lift up and foster a collaborative process, attendees were asked to help identify the Campaign’s priorities for next steps in a real-time survey. The responses we received will be used to guide our future strategies. 

We are so thankful to all those who participated in this convening and want to especially acknowledge all the speakers and panelists. Reminiscent of the protest chant, “No justice, no peace!” our campaign is a rallying cry for all to heed, and together, we can dismantle and rebuild the systems that are failing far too many. Together, we can usher in a new era of health and justice for all. We look forward to continuing to work with and learn from you all.