2020: Looking Back to Envision the Future
Winona Community Not Cages developed in the summer of 2020 from a variety of motivating issues:
- concern about health impact of covid in the county jail, which led to organized demands for decarceration and transparency of policies
- concerns about militarization of local policing through the 1033 Program
- an activist push to ensure that proposed crisis responder positions remain outside of the police department
- a view that local policing and punishment creates a spiraling relationship of harm
At the county board meetings on December 10th and 22nd, many Winona community members spoke out in opposition to the current jail proposal. The demand was clear, listen to the community’s concerns in regards to the proposed jail size. Community members also demanded that the board explain how the average daily population has been less than 30 since the start of the pandemic, which clearly demonstrates that a 78-98 bed jail is excessive.
On December 22nd, Meyer, Kovecsi, and Olson voted against a public hearing on the jail discussion. Ward and Jacobs voted in favor. Winona was denied a public hearing by their elected officials. Meyer, Kovecsi, and Olson voted in favor of a 80 bed facility plan. Ward tried again to table the vote to wait for public comment. Without public pressure, it is very likely the county board would have built their larger proposed jail–a 98 bed facility. The decision to deny a public hearing and gather testimony about the impact of incarceration on public health, is evidence of a lack of investment in basic democratic processes.
We remain critical of branding that asserts the local jail is a “justice center,” as “jails are inherently violent and destructive, and they are an integral part of the prison industrial complex.” We refuse to accept a narrative that portrays the jail as access to mental health or addiction services; “no one can get well in a cell.” We will continue to struggle against the oppressive status quo, imagining alternatives to carceral punishment and building a community that centers our collective health.
While we were denied a county-sanctioned public hearing, there will be a people’s hearing, as our vision and work will not be thwarted. Reducing the proposal from 98 to 80 is harm reduction. There is value in the fact that Community Not. Cages is a local discussion. The narrative has shifted, and we will not settle until there is further investment in mental health and addiction services outside of the system of criminalization.