A victory--and the road ahead

Monday, October 01, 2012

The team at a hearing in 2010, at the beginning of the effort that resulted in the Governor signing AB2530 last week.
By Alicia Walters, Creative Justice Works

We did it! We - ACLU, LSPC, ACOG, CYWD, the many organizational supporters and nearly 6,000 individuals who took action - passed a law prohibiting leg irons, waist chains, and handcuffs behind the back from being used on pregnant women in California jails and prisons!

The last three years of advocacy on this bill have been nothing compared to the decades-long struggle to end the drug war; the centuries-long struggle against the old and new Jim Crow; the millenia-long struggle for the recognition and equality of all women.

Yes, compared to these ongoing struggles, our victory is small. And yet, we must celebrate a step in the right direction, and keep the dance moving ever forward.

So, how can this victory be a catalyst for the next and the next?

First, we can spread it to other states. We have Illinois and Washington and many others to thank for their leadership in banning shackling throughout pregnancy. Now it is our turn: by documenting our process, compiling our advocacy materials and research, and sharing media contacts across states, we will support those advocates coming behind us and increase the pressure on state legislatures to do the right thing.

Next, in California, we must look at how the realignment of the criminal justice system is affecting women and communities. Following a federal lawsuit that required California to reduce its prison population, the state adopted a policy redirecting low-level offenders away from state prison and into the custody of county jails. Realignment, as it’s called, could have enormous consequences for those held in county jails and their communities. Counties are receiving millions to implement the law and are encouraged to spend that money on evidence-based programs that halt the cycle of incarceration while improving public safety by keeping people out of jail, off drugs, in jobs, and with their families.

Unfortunately, there is no requirement that counties spend this money on diversion programs, and many are simply using it to expand their jails. It is our job to keep them accountable and push back against the dominant narrative of jail expansion by inserting the needs of women and families. We must monitor, report, and advocate for county plans and practices that keep people out of jail while adequately caring for the ones who are there.

Finally, let us remember that we are attempting to reform, reverse, disrupt, or abolish a machine that this country is built upon and that people continue to suffer within. Our work is far from over, we have no laurels on which to rest. We can never lose sight of the machine: we must continue to bring attention to the racist drug laws and law enforcement policies that are forever uprooting our communities and keeping low income people of color in a cycle of incarceration, poverty, miseducation, and addiction. Tackling the “criminal (in)justice” system seems insurmountable. No matter what end of the spectrum we look at - from policies that push students out of school and into juvenile hall, racially targeted law enforcement tactics, medical and sexual assault and the disregard of women, or the uprooted individuals, families, and communities that are left to suffer - this system is broken in every way imaginable. One law will not fix it, but each effort, each news article, each community that says “no more” will ensure that the machine knows that we are not cogs. We are people. We deserve a fair chance and we will keep making things difficult until we get it.

Alicia M. Walters is an organizer, communications strategist, and policy advocate. She consults with Creative Justice Works on issues of reproductive, gender, and racial justice. She lives in Oakland, California with her strong family.