For Immediate Release:
Contact: Kenyatta M. Thompson, email@example.com | (860) 937-6094
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As Gov. Lamont & Legislature Reconvene for Special Session, Absent from Agenda is Any Legislation to Address COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails
With COVID-19 Spreading Nationwide, State Efforts To Address Systemic Racism and Injustice Must Also Address COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails
Statement by Members of Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice: Defunding the Police, Defunding Corrections, and Defending Black Lives
Hartford, CT: As the Special Session kicks off this week in Connecticut, the legislature is taking up a number of bills, including, in the wake of protests against the killing of George Floyd and systemic racism, measures for police accountability. But glaringly missing from the agenda is any plan or proposal to address COVID-19 in state prisons and jails. Without addressing this urgent problem, Gov. Lamont and the legislature are failing Black constituents.
Statement by Members of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, on the special session:
Over the last few months, the United States has been forced to reckon with police violence against Black and brown bodies. This is nothing new, and America has been here before: George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Amhaud Arbery. Sandra Bland. Atatiana Jefferson. Trayvon Martin. Aiyana Jones. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. The names go on, sometimes without an end in sight. For Connecticut residents, the names of those killed nationally by police violence ring loudly amongst a host of others killed by police at home: Aquan Salmon. Jayson Negron. Anthony “Chulo” Vega. Mubarak “Mubi” Soulemane. Jose Soto, and the countless others whose names we do not know. Police violence against Black people in America, and in Connecticut, is not an isolated incident. Because these are not isolated incidences, it is clear that all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter.
In response, Gov. Lamont and the Legislature are convening a special session and have proposed draft police accountability legislation. While accountability – systemic accountability — is urgently needed in Connecticut, this proposed bill, as the only measure offered by Lamont and the Legislature toward that goal, is utterly insufficient and will not even achieve its proposed aim. The legislation includes hollow measures that have already been proven to be ineffective in the long-term, like implicit bias training for police officers.
If Gov. Lamont and the legislature are serious about tackling systemic racism and mass criminalization of Black people, their proposed police accountability bill legislation needs to go further by legitimately divesting funds from law enforcement agencies and re-investing funding into Black and brown communities. And they must address the health crisis in Connecticut jails and prison that is COVID-19.
A pandemic is defined as an “outbreak… that is prevalent across a whole country or the world.” The world is grappling with two crises at once: the COVID-19 pandemic and the violence inflicted upon Black bodies. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Ned Lamont declared a public health emergency in March and authored a myriad of Executive Orders to protect the health and safety of Connecticut residents. In response to the current Uprisings to defend Black lives, elected officials throughout the state have declared racism as a public health issue and have offered reforms aimed at fixing the “bad apples” within law enforcement. Unfortunately, both responses have fallen short for many Connecticut residents. The Governor has refused to listen to family members with incarcerated loved ones who have requested that he decarcerate state prisons and jails to protect incarcerated people against COVID-19. Decarceration is the number one recommendation from public health experts to slow the spread of the virus in correctional facilities; it is insincere for the Governor to claim he cares about Black lives while he does nothing to protect incarcerated people during the pandemic, most of whom are Black and brown. In the same vain, declaring racism a public health issue without legitimate action to defend Black lives is empty rhetoric. Connecticut residents are past superficial, performative gestures from elected officials and demand real systemic change.
The current social systems in Connecticut, and in America at-large, do not work for Black people. Various public systems, including housing, education, employment, healthcare, do not adequately give resources to Black residents in the state. Even more, the criminal justice system is then used as a basin for those who fall through the cracks of the other systems. The system that allows young Black children to be arrested while they are in school is the same system that cycles young people in and out of the foster care system. The system that allows for people to be evicted during the worst public health crisis of the century is the same system that refuses to allow people with felony convictions to rent an apartment. The system that is worried about defunding the police is the same system that continually allows for education, health care, employment and other services to be defunded regularly. These systems have not worked for Black people in the past—it is time they are divested from to ensure equity for all.
Defunding the police is just one step to defending Black lives. It is critical that after these systems are defunded, and divested from, funding and resources go directly into building communities that have been marginalized. Instead of the police being the first line of defense when a child is punished in school, in-school counselors for young people need to be resourced. Instead of the police being the first line of defense when a person is experiencing an acute mental health crisis, mobile crisis units within communities need to be resourced. Instead of police being the first line of defense for domestic violence issues, community-based organizations devoted to transformative justice for survivors and perpetrators of harm need to be resourced. Instead of having free after-school programs headed by the police, or funded with police dollars, after-school programs that are started by local community members need to be resourced. New systems of care and support need to be developed in Black communities, which can come to fruition only after fully divesting from the systems in place that harm Black people (police, corrections, other law enforcement agencies).
This is why the Legislature must take up the issue of COVID-19 in prisons and jails in Connecticut, and develop a comprehensive plan that saves lives and ensures the health of all people. In Connecticut, Black people make up 41% of the prison population, despite being 10% of the general population. In concrete terms, Black people make up most of the incarcerated population in all but 2 state prisons and jails in Connecticut. To address racism and police brutality without tackling issues behind the veil of Corrections is shameful, and every Connecticut legislator must address the very real crisis of COVID behind bars. To date, over 400 incarcerated people rejected the Department of Correction’s settlement on COVID behind bars, many citing the need to decarcerate as central to their safety.
Performative gestures, like declaring racism a public health issue or introducing legislation that has proven to be inadequate in curbing police violence, is woefully insufficient to legitimately dismantle racism and oppression for Black people. In order for us to really be in defense of Black lives, we must divest from the carceral system, invest in our communities, and pass laws that concretely support Black lives.