Humanity, Transparency, and Accountability

Demanding action from Louisville Metro Department of Corrections

On October 5th, LFJA Board members, Special Project art activity leaders and community advocates wrote a letter to the Director and Assistant Director of Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC). With video visiting suspended since March 13th and no consistent public information concerning COVID-19 cases inside the jail, we called on LMDC to take three simple and humane actions for families with incarcerated loved ones in Louisville’s Main Jail Complex:

  1. Provide at least two (2) free phone calls per week to people inside the Jail until visiting is reinstated. The current cost of collect calls to cellular phones from the Jail is an exorbitant amount of $9.99 for a 15-minute call. This fee includes a commission for LMDC.
  2. Post weekly information about the number of cases and health protocols for COVID-19 cases inside the Jail.
  3. Establish public guidelines for timing and conditions to resume video visiting, or create a new alternative.

The letter called for LMDC leaders to respond by October 13th, the date marking seven months with no video contact options for families. The Jail leaders chose not to acknowledge or reply to these common sense calls for action, adding lack of transparency and public accountability to the lack of basic humanity in the face of the pain and suffering especially affecting poor Black and Brown people disproportionately confined in the Jail.

SO NOW WE NEED YOU TO JOIN OUR CALL TO ACTION!

Here are four ways you can support our work:

  1. Watch our virtual forum on Prison Phone Justice and hear the voices of directly impacted community members, including:
    • Chef Nikkia Rhodes points out how the high cost of phone calls unfairly punishes children and families who committed no crimes.
    • LaTonya MacNeal, a recovery worker, says, “a phone call can be a matter of life or death.”
    • Aaron Bentley, a civil rights attorney, explains how a person being held Pre-Trial and cannot pay cash bail are is less likely to be able to access a free attorney call.
  2. Learn how Prison Phone calls are part of the global for-profit Prison Industrial Complex now dominated by two international corporations. Research how local jails, including LMDC, get “commissions” on each call. 
  3. Sign your name and circulate this petition to engage more people in this important call to action for humanity, transparency, and accountability by Louisville Metro Department of Corrections.
  4. Email LFJA at louisvillefamilyjusticeadvocates@gmail.com if you or a group would like to create an additional separate letter of support like this one that focuses on children’s health.

Why Prison Phone Justice? Why Now?

There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives…Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.

-Audre Lorde

For more than a decade, advocates for Prison Phone Justice across our country have called for the abolition of for-profit exorbitant rates for phone calls made from prisons and jails. 

Now, the intertwined pandemics in public health and racial injustice reveal how Prison Phone Justice is embedded in racial justice and health equity as an important component of public safety and wellness in our community.     

Prison Phone Justice sees and affirms the full humanity of incarcerated people. People don’t stop being parents, siblings, grandparents or friends because they are incarcerated. Because of systemic racial disparities in who is incarcerated in Louisville, denying video visiting and charging high costs for phone calls inflicts more harm on Black, Brown and poor people, and their families, friends and advocates.

Prison Phone Justice respects people directly impacted by incarceration and learns from their knowledge and stories. Personal stories, like Chef Nikkia Rhodes’ loving memories of her father, challenge unspoken assumptions that incarcerated people do not have caring connections. Denying access to free visual and spoken contact with families, friends and legal advisors is racially unjust, economically unfair and harmful to the health and wellbeing of our community. 

Addressing the immediate needs of currently incarcerated community members connects Prison Phone Justice to the transformative work of challenging injustice and creating safer and healthier systems for our whole community. The presence of COVID-19 inside the jail makes free and accessible communication to friends and loved ones more urgent and necessary now. In this important time of change, every individual and collective action to enact justice makes a difference because, as Audre Lorde points out, we are all connected.  

Please join the call and participate in the LFJA Virtual Forum on Wednesday, October 7th from 5:30 – 6:00pm to learn more about Prison Phone Justice, hear from folks directly impacted, and what you can do about it!

LFJA always welcomes and depends on your suggestions, ideas, concerns, questions, and needs. 

Family Justice is More Important Now Than Ever

In mid-March, the video visiting lobby at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections closed, understandably, because of COVID-19. Yet, now five months later, there is still no alternative for families to visually see their incarcerated loved ones and no information about when video visiting can resume.

On August 6th the Courier-Journal reported 124 incarcerated persons tested positive for COVID-19. If you have not had an incarcerated loved one, imagine how families would feel hearing this news and knowing that social distancing is impossible in the jail. All families in Louisville should have access to vital health information concerning their loved ones, especially now and especially for those being detained by Louisville Metro Government.

And it is more important now than ever to recognize that racial disparities in policing and judging mean significant and now life threatening health disparities in those who are in danger in jail.

Kentucky now has the 3rd highest rate in the nation (12%) of children experiencing incarceration. LFJA recently joined with Partners for Education, at Berea College, and Hasan Davis, performance artist and former KY Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, in an Urban and Rural Learning Exchange about the impact of parental incarceration on children and families in our communities. One thing we learned is Family justice,  including visiting and phone calls, are more important now than ever!

Putting Community Health First

Lessons Learned From COVID-19 and Criminal Justice

COVID-19 brutally demonstrates that local incarceration is not only about criminal justice; it is also about community health. Even before the pandemic, national health experts and the American Bar Association connected incarceration and public health with calls for holistic actions to address the root causes of both.

COVID-19 now proves indisputably how the criminal justice system itself is a root cause of individual and community health outcomes. The positive tests of incarcerated persons and staff at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections and deaths at Kentucky’s Green River Correctional Facility and the Federal Medical Center prison in Lexington are both public health concerns and human rights issues.

The massive challenges of COVID-19 call for powerful and caring responses. The convergence of COVID-19 and our criminal justice system reveals fundamental inequities, demanding strong and corrective actions. The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Center for Health Equity originated a simple yet powerful image of a tree to guide actions for improving community health

This Health Equity Tree below, created by graphic designer Daphne Walker for LFJA, illustrates how individual health conditions are linked to root causes including criminal justice, and both are fed by current and historic systems of power.

The Health Equity Tree links the root causes of COVID-19 to individual health outcomes depicted as leaves, which indicate wellness or illness.  Like a tree, individual leaves are linked to root causes like employment, income and local criminal justice systems.  Employment and income, for example, are root causes of the health of individuals who are incarcerated in our local jail.  When any of us are unable to pay bail and must await trial, even though the courts cannot operate in a timely manner, the health of everyone in our community is affected.

The Health Equity Tree also asks us to consider the soil that feeds the roots, essential to the growth and development of the trunk and its leaves. COVID-19 shines a brutal light on racial inequities in the soil shaping our individual and community’s health.  At a recent forum, Louisville leaders spoke publicly about how historic systems of power like segregation and redlining are causing significant racial disparities in illness and deaths due to COVID-19.

Like COVID-19, criminal justice policies and practices are unequally punishing Black community members. More than 1200 men and women are currently incarcerated in our jail even as positive cases among corrections staff are increasing, endangering everyone inside. Of the 1213 people confined in the Main Jail Complex on April 27th, for example, 614, over 50%, are identified as Black. This is 2.5 times the 20% rate of our Black population, a significant racial disparity.

The Health Equity Tree also teaches us how our community can recover from COVID-19 through more healthy and just local actions. Nurturing the health of all individuals require immediate caring and equitable actions. For example, when treating individual health, the root causes of access to health services, neighborhood development, income, employment and the criminal justice system must also be addressed to be fully effective. Most importantly, we must put community first and examine and address systems of power, the soil in which our trees of health are planted, that create disparities in the root causes that feed our collective health outcomes.