August 18 2015

The national news is filled with stories about what is wrong with the criminal justice system and how we can fix it. But what’s missing from the current debate is a conversation about how our justice system negatively impacts health, particularly the health of children and families of color.

The California Endowment and the American Public Health Association have come together to start this conversation. We have created the video below to explain the role the criminal justice system plays in our health and how California is leading the way in turning our culture of punishment into a culture of prevention.

Beginning in the 1980s, we thought harsh sentences would make our communities safer. Instead, our prison population soared, and so did prison spending. Every dollar spent on incarceration is one we couldn’t spend on what really kept us safe. Today community leaders are beginning to realize we must refocus our priorities and our dollars on education, health and prevention, so we can keep people out of jail in the first place.

California is leading the way. Last year voters passed Proposition 47, bringing common sense back to sentencing for nonviolent offenses and giving up to a million people the chance to have old, non-violent felonies removed from their records. This creates new opportunities for jobs, housing and better health. And with the money saved from not incarcerating people for minor offenses, California will have more money to spend on youth programs, substance abuse treatment, support services for people leaving prison, and other programs that are more likely to keep us safe and healthy.

We hope you’ll take a few minutes today to watch the video below and learn how you can be part of the movement to create a culture of health.

This blog was co-authored by APHA’s Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin and The Endowment’s President & CEO Robert K. Ross, MD.

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