Preventable Deaths, Santa Cruz County Jail

Sharon Daniel, Jenny Reardon, ROXY DAVIS, and Sin Barras members Leslie Potenzo and Rebekah Mills, UC Santa Cruz

From 2012 to 2016, there were five preventable deaths in the Santa Cruz County jail, more than twice the national per capita average. Amid news of these deaths and a lack of transparency about the healthcare provided in the jail, local prison abolition group Sin Barras reached out to university researchers to investigate. There are many unanswered questions about healthcare quality and access issues at the jail, including basic information about people’s experiences of medical treatment during their incarceration and after their re-entry into the community.  This project is a collaboration between the social sciences, the arts and the community to explore conditions and healthcare provision in local jails. The research team is composed of Psychology graduate student Roxy Davis, Film and Digital Media professor Sharon Daniel, Sociology professor Jenny Reardon, and Sin Barras members Leslie Potenzo and Rebekah Mills. Last year, Roxy conducted an initial study that involved interviewing 14 formerly incarcerated people; participants consistently shared experiences of treatment lapses, poor quality of care, and harmful and dehumanizing conditions. The proposed project for this grant builds on the previous study. Roxy will work with Professor Daniel to conduct additional interviews and develop a prototype for an interactive, online documentary that will create awareness of the inadequate care in the Santa Cruz jail and generate momentum for policy change.

The Santa Cruz County main jail is located just steps from downtown Santa Cruz, but the people incarcerated there are isolated from their community by both physical and symbolic barriers. Jails are spaces of exclusion where prisoners are rendered invisible to the general public. Their invisibility makes them vulnerable to neglect and subject to treatment that the general public would find unacceptable, if they could see it. By recording and publishing the testimonies of those whom the jail’s healthcare system has failed, we hope to bring those who have been marginalized and excluded through the criminal justice system together with the greater Santa Cruz community and to activate the community to support their human right to health care. From its inception, this project has been about strengthening and uniting local communities that have been separated by physical space or ideological barriers. The research team includes both university-affiliated people and Sin Barras activists, and this summer, we will be convening an advisory board of directly impacted people and their family members to ensure that their voices are the ones guiding the continued development of the project. At its heart, this project is about connection: it seeks to connect the university, prisoners and their loved ones, care providers, marginalized people, decision-makers, and the Santa Cruz general public, and unite them around the common cause of creating a healthy and safe community for everyone.