Black Public Defender Association
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Save Black Lives: A Call for Racially-responsive Strategies and Resources for the Black Community during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Black Public Defender Association and the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University issued “Save Black Lives: A Call for Racially-responsive Strategies and Resources for the Black Community during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” a comprehensive report that details why public health responses and strategies to address COVID-19 must be centered around race and the criminal legal system.
Black people are being infected and dying from COVID-19 at alarming rates and they are also overrepresented in carceral systems that increase their risk of exposure to this deadly virus. The report shows that race-neutral responses to the pandemic within the criminal legal system are ineffective, and how they cause harm to Black communities.
Key findings and recommendations in the report:
- Race-neutral advocacy in criminal legal and public health systems is harmful to Black lives. The first reporting of COVID-19 was presented under the guise of underlying health conditions and age, which soon had race-specific realities. Similarly, much of the advocacy around protecting people in prison has been race-neutral, even though Black people are over represented in carceral systems, and once released, will likely return to communities that are COVID-19 hotspots.
- Black public defenders and Black researchers play a critical role in advancing equitable policy solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic within the criminal legal system. As members of a community impacted most severely by COVID-19 and incarceration, their voices are critical to developing culturally-responsive solutions, instead of blanket policies and research findings that fail to account for race or engage the Black community.
Key findings and recommendations in the report (continued):
- The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to fight for decarceration measures that address and reduce racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
- Decarceration must be coupled with effective reentry support and services. The overrepresentation of Black people in prisons and jails, combined with the alarmingly high rates of infections and deaths in the general Black population, shows the importance of proper reentry support to prevent the additional spread of this deadly disease. Policymakers have a responsibility to ensure reentry programs are adequately funded because the safety and health of people returning home from prisons and jails, and their communities, depend on it.
- The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that mass incarceration is a public health concern, and even more so, that we need to shift the traditional punishment paradigm of the criminal legal system to the more established approaches of public health and interdisciplinary perspectives for reducing social problems that often cause people to commit crimes.