Care not Cages! #COVID19DecarcerateSyllabus

Photo credit: Chisa Hughes

Curated by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) 

This political education resource was first circulated online on March 20, 2020. It was last updated on April 19, 2020.

CCWP is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC). We see the struggle for racial and gender justice as central to dismantling the PIC and we prioritize the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement.

Founded in 1995, CCWP grew out of the fight for the health of incarcerated people in California’s women’s prisons. A documentary about CCWP co-founder, Charisse Shumate, is available to watch free online. Charisse was a life term prisoner incarcerated for 16 years at the Central California Women’s Facility. She became a lead plaintiff and spokesperson in a class action lawsuit challenging the medical neglect and abuse of women prisoners (Shumate v. Wilson). She died of complications from sickle cell anemia, cancer, and hepatitis C. 

All of the following recommended readings are available online and free to access. In addition, you can find more than twenty years of writing across prison walls on issues of medical neglect, abuse, and violence in the online archive of CCWP’s inside/outside newsletter, The Fire Inside.

COVID-19 Inside Jails and Prisons

The coronavirus pandemic poses particular dangers to incarcerated people:

Strategies for Fighting COVID-19 Behind the Walls

One of the most effective ways to protect incarcerated people during this crisis is to reduce the size of prison and jail populations. Some states have already taken steps to, for example, move up release dates and limit the number of jail bookings. Organizers, policymakers, and researchers are advocating a wide range of decarceration strategies and other measures to protect incarcerated people who are especially vulnerable:

Aging in Prison

Incarcerated people aged 50 years and older are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Roughly 30% of people incarcerated in California are serving life sentences, and approximately 5,200 people are serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP). Organizers, inside and outside, have illuminated the public health crisis of extreme sentencing and have advocated for elder parole, compassionate release, and the end of the LWOP sentence:

The Everyday Crisis of Prison Healthcare

The danger of this pandemic to incarcerated people is exacerbated by long standing failures of prisons, jails, and ICE detention to provide adequate healthcare to those incarcerated:

And incarcerated people and their allies have long made medical neglect, abuse, and violence a focus of their organizing efforts: 

Post-Incarceration

It’s vital that people released from prison are supported in their homecoming process:

Prison Industrial Complex Abolition

Our work toward decarceration is based on a framework of prison industrial complex abolition: “a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment” (Critical Resistance). 

Looking for even more reading recommendations? 

#PrisonAbolitionSyllabus

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