Prisoners and family members demand care not jails

Dublin, California

In what was an incredibly moving ceremony and protest, former prisoners, family members, clergy, prison abolitionists and community organizations gathered at the Santa Rita Alameda County Jail in Dublin, April 1, to send this powerful message: “We need healing, housing and care, not deaths!”

April 2023. A Care First Community Coalition member reads aloud the names of people who died from abuse and neglect in Santa Rita Jail, California. WW Photo: Judy Greenspan

The Care First Community Coalition held space outside the large jail for people to express their anger and grief over the deaths of over 70 incarcerated people at the jail since 2014. Four of those deaths happened in the first two months of 2023. CFCC is a coalition of community agencies, activist groups and religious organizations.

The healing circle or rally consisted of family members, former prisoners and others speaking out about the abuse suffered by people incarcerated inside Santa Rita Jail, the larger of two jails in the Alameda County detention system. The facility currently has 2,600 prisoners locked up inside. Around 85% are pretrial. 

A prisoner inside delivered a taped statement about his experience in May 2022 in the Intensive Care Unit at Stanford Health Center after attempting suicide. He called out the Santa Rita jail administration for neglecting and ignoring Black men who “suffer from mental illness.” 

The prisoner, who identified himself as a Black man, spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation, stating, “This is a jail, not a place of healing or a place of care. We are subjected to trauma daily here. I want us to be clear on this point.” The incarcerated speaker ended by thanking everyone who attended the protest, “I cannot express in words how very grateful I am for your assembling out here in order to demand that this county provide care not death.” 

After the rally and vigil, a loud noise protest and march were held in front of the jail, with protesters banging on drums and pots and carrying paper tombstones, commemorating everyone who has died inside Santa Rita Jail. 

CFCC, whose backbone organization is Restore Oakland, is committed to fighting for justice and care for county residents with behavioral health concerns in the Santa Rita Jail. Their mission is simple. “We call on the County to divest from the systems that cage and criminalize our community members and to invest in holistic health care, housing and life-affirming resources that create true safety and healing for Alameda County residents.” 

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