by Abaki Beck
Our reading of the week is "Locked Down: On Disability and Incarceration" by Cheryl Green. This piece the structural context of our contemporary treatment of people with disabilities and mental illness in relation to incarceration: from imprisonment of the mentally ill in the 1830s to JFK’s legislation to support community-based care facilities (which never received enough funding to be successful). The author argues that the reasons movements to support disabled people were never successful is that as a society, we never addressed ableism - and how we define who is labeled as “disabled.” For example, in the 19th century slaves who ran away were labeled mentally ill, as were queer people through the 1970s (being trans is still considered a mental illness by the World Health Organization). Today, these biases against disabled folks continue to cause severe damage: it’s estimated that between one-third to one-half of people killed by police have disabilities, and more people today with disabilities are in prison than are receiving psychiatric care.
This essay is significant for several reasons. First, folks with disabilities are routinely ignored when we discuss issues of state violence and incarceration - or they are framed as the violent perpetrators (“mentally unstable”) as opposed to the victims, which they more often are. Secondly, this essay gives an important intersectional analysis about the impacts of sexuality, race, and class on how folks with disabilities are treated in prison. And finally, the author herself is disabled and suffered from a traumatic brain injury; when discussing ableism and disability justice, it is essential to center the voices of disabled folks themselves.
Read the full essay HERE!