The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is joining with movements across the country to demand people be released from prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers. As a Quaker organization with more than a century of experience working to end militarism and violence, we know that punitive approaches are dehumanizing and harmful and do not move us toward a more peaceful world. We need to reevaluate public safety from the ground up, seeking approaches that actually work to interrupt and prevent cycles of violence, end harm, and provide access to tools to ensure everyone’s well-being. We envision a future where resources are directed away from incarceration in all forms and toward the resources and institutions our communities need most.
These talking points can be adapted to your personal voice and local context.
Everyone deserves dignity and justice. But in the United States, 2.3 million people are locked away in prisons, jails, and immigration and juvenile detention centers, where they are subject to civil and human rights violations and a lack of access to adequate health care. It is time for us to imagine a new system that is rooted in healing and accountability.
Incarceration doesn’t keep us safe. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world but has incredibly high rates of gun violence and sexual assault. This country warehouses 2.3 million people—disproportionately people of color and poor people—while doing little to stop harm or help survivors of violence and communities heal.
During a pandemic, incarceration is particularly deadly. Both infection rates and death rates from COVID-19 are much higher in prisons, jails, and detention centers. The nature of confinement makes it almost impossible for people to practice social distancing, and inadequate health care and limited sanitation supplies help COVID-19 spread.
Incarceration perpetuates cycles of trauma. If the factors that lead to incarceration are poverty, racism, trauma, mental illness, and lack of access to essential services, locking someone up in a cage where they will be further traumatized and impoverished simply perpetuates the cycle.
Incarceration, immigration policies, and law enforcement are racist. U.S. policing has its roots in slave patrols. The first immigration policies were created specifically to exclude Chinese immigrants. The expansion of racially targeted policies such as stop-and-frisk and the “war on drugs” have fueled mass incarceration in the U.S., with Black people incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people. ICE and CBP agents routinely target people of color for detention and deportation.
Prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers are extremely expensive. Taxpayers in the U.S. spend around $80 billion annually on keeping people in cages. This diverts funds from essential services and community-led programs that address the root causes of violence.
What we want instead
Transformative and restorative justice to deal with harm: Instead of using violent systems to address violence, we ground our responses in the needs of those involved and their communities. Transformative justice processes are implemented to hold those who cause harm accountable and help survivors of violence heal. The root causes of the situation are addressed to prevent future harm from occurring.
Mediation and conflict resolution skills are taught at all levels: Rather than having police in schools, young people learn the skills to resolve conflict themselves. Young people are supported, not criminalized.
People’s basic needs are met: Everyone has access to housing, health care, education, healthy food, employment, environmental protections, free and accessible addiction and mental health services, and all the resources communities need to thrive.
Immigration processes are based on support, not punishment: People are given access to the resources and community and legal support they need to adjust their immigration status. No one is deported.
Strong emergency response systems that don’t involve the police: In a crisis, skilled response teams will quickly be on the scene to help find solutions—for example, people trained in de-escalation and mediation skills, addiction and mental health counselors, and others who can help connect people to the resources they need.
Prisons, jails, and detention centers aren’t just amplifiers of a public health crisis, they are a public health crisis. It is time for us to envision something better. It is time to #FreeThemAll.
For more on AFSC’s call to #FreeThemAll, check out afsc.org/FreeThemAll
For more resources on dealing with harm without using police and prisons, check out the Creative Interventions toolkit: www.creative-interventions.org/tools/toolkit/