Represent Justice Ambassadors talk toll COVID, incarceration takes on women

Earlier this month, our women Ambassadors —  April Grayson, Donna Hylton, Michelle Cirocco and Tyra Patterson — gathered for a virtual roundtable discussion on some of the most pressing issues facing system-impacted women today.

Women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population in the United States.  A study done by The Sentencing Project found that between 1980 and 2016, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%.

The toll they experience from mass incarceration — from the trauma it causes to the economic consequences — is compounded by the lack of adequate women’s health care in prisons and jails, and the harrowing treatment of pregnant women and mothers. And all of this is of course intensified by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has magnified the vulnerability of incarcerated women. 

As we’re now more than a year into the pandemic, our Ambassadors reflected on the toll this has taken on incarcerated women.

“With COVID, they shut down visitation and shutting down visitation doesn’t just mean preventing people from seeing their families, it meant shutting down access fro all the volunteer programs, the educational programs and all the people who come in from the outside to provide,” Michelle said.

They shared the conditions women in prison have been living in due to COVID-19, the lack of systemic support for the health and safety of incarcerated people, and broke down the distrust in the healthcare system among communities of color.

“The healthcare is subpar at best in prison,” Donna said in the roundtable, explaining that the distrust goes beyond prison facilities. “Let’s talk about the communities the women come from — there’s no real good medical care in our communities. And so, if we’re talking about being afraid of COVID, being afraid of the vaccine…we’re afraid of a lot of things because we don’t have anyone to work with to trust, and to understand.

Take a moment to hear the conversation in full below: