Decarceration is the act of freeing our loved ones from institutions. The institutions exist as jails, prisons, reformed jails and prisons, immigration custody, and more. This is one part of the definition of decarceration and another part of the definition comes from understanding the impact of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).
Who do we want to free from institutions? Everyone. Since we are TGIJP, we are going to put emphasis on our most vulnerable community: freeing Black trans women.
And yes, everyone. I’ll get to that later.
What else is included in decarceration? Decarceration means more than getting folks out of jails and prisons. Other than freeing our loved ones from cages, the next steps are healing from the debilitating trauma of being incarcerated, improving quality of life and not limiting the quality of life for loved ones released, healing familial and communal trauma with adequate resources/harm reduction and accountability, and continuing the fight to ultimately abolish the Prison Industrial Complex.
So what do all of the points listed above actually mean? How can we begin the steps towards decarceration? How can we begin the step to highlighting our most vulnerable on the path to decarceration?
The PIC does not offer solutions for healing after being traumatized from the Prison Industrial Complex. Once our loved ones are released, they are dependent on court systems and police enforced services and no stand-alone mental health services. This is intentional because it makes police, courts, and surveillance a necessary part of our daily lives while making it harder for us to get the resources we actually need. What we need is high-quality mental health services for our loved ones released. The tinge of incarceration leaves a lasting effect on our loved ones and without proper help, our loved ones can end up re-incarcerated. We want to avoid re-incarceration to continue decarceration. While some mental health services exist, many are operated under the Sheriff’s Departments, courts, or other punitive systems. The post-release systems use punitive solutions to more harshly impact Black and brown bodies, even more so with Black trans women. These systems aren’t designed for us to thrive individually or as part of Black trans, gender-variant, and intersex communities, I mean, they aren’t designed to be successful to anyone, but they are especially disciplinary to those communities.
We need to abolish systems of continuous punishment alike to restrictive, mandatory and punitive/court-ordered programs, police as service providers, restrictive access to state funded resources, electronic monitoring, and more to strive towards decarceration, and break that chain of reincarceration. Continuing punishment after time served decreases the quality of life for our loved ones as they remain trapped in the system even after being released from physical cages. Punitive punishment is the abstract cage. Then, we need language around learning the gifts and talents of our folks, making sure they have access to opportunities when they are released. These opportunities should be completely removed from all parts of the Prison Industrial Complex--that includes sheriffs departments--and based in the communities and organizations that actually help us to survive and thrive.
How can the community stride towards decarceration? Start with alternative ways of addressing harm and community accountability. Start with crisis intervention that is community-based. These are actions that can reduce or eliminate police involvement and further eliminate incarceration. The community can create more resources, alternatives to housing, housing stability once housed, access to harm reduction, food, clothing, and more. In addition to, communities should have access to services once a loved one is released. Families and loved ones can build relationships and with their children when released. They can repair family and community damages. The trauma of incarceration is widespread. Strong communities are the glue to aid in keeping released loved ones safe and out of the system.
I know you just read a lot and it probably feels overwhelming, but reading this is the first step and I’m proud of you. You can start with small steps, really huge steps, or whatever is within your capacity. I’m going to plug some resources below and some allies to check out -- start a dialogue -- come to mail night at TGIJP -- start an abolition chapter in your neighborhood! We love you and together we can continue the fight.
With love and power,
Janetta Johnson and the TGIJP Family
Abolitionist Toolkit -- http://criticalresistance.org/resources/the-abolitionist-toolkit/
Addressing Harm, Accountability, and Healing -- http://criticalresistance.org/resources/addressing-harm-accountability-and-healing/
Community Accountability Wordpress -- https://communityaccountability.wordpress.com/
Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence -- http://www.creative-interventions.org/tools/toolkit/
Survived and Punished Restorative Resources for Survivors -- https://survivedandpunished.org/analysis/
Involuntary Mental Health Services and Mandated Reporting is a Form of Carceration -- https://mirrormemoirs.com/call-for-participants/