From Punishment to Public Health #P2PH


Part of JustPublic@365's Social Justice Topic Series, this guide brings together digital activism strategies, tools, and informational resources to help you create your own Punishment to Public Health social justice campaign.


Book Description

In this series we explored how public health might offer a more humane and just approach to social ills than the prevailing approach that is based on criminalization.

Since at least the 1970s, the response to drug use has been one that emphasized punishment and criminalization. The punishment framework has shaped the collective response to drug use, and increasingly every social problem, for the past thirty years, in the US and globally. Catch phrases like “lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” three strikes you’re out, and “let them rot in jail,” have characterized this time period and this attitude toward social policy.

More recently, the reliance on punishment has been giving way to an approach that is more rooted in public health. For example, in 2013, US Attorney General proposed moving away from mandatory minimum sentences for drugs. And, as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) – colloquially known as “Obamacare” – goes into effect, an estimated 32 million Americans will have new access to drug treatment programs. Outside the US, other countries are moving to legalize drugs (such as PortugalUruguay) and closing prisons due to lack of inmates (such as the Netherlands).

In this series we asked: how are these policy changes transforming the lives of everyday people? Are public health approaches to the criminalization of drugs really better or do they simply expand control over citizens? Through a variety of knowledge streams (e.g., podcasts, data visualizations, and blog posts) we hosted a month-long conversation between academics, activists and journalists about the shift from punishment to public health and if that moves us closer to a more just society.

The aim of JustPublics@365 is to foster the innovative work that can create connections between academics, activists and journalists who are working to address some of the pressing social problems of our time.  From where we sit in the heart of New York City, criminalization is at the top of the list of pressing social problems. Rather than offer a solution, punishment as a policy framework causes deleterious harm to the democratic life of the city and the nation.

So, we offer this series on Punishment to Public Health as another case study of how we might reimagine scholarly communication for the public good.