In the final few minutes of the workshop, several members of the Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity identified important messages that they had derived from the workshop’s presentations and discussions.
Antonia Villarruel (University of Pennsylvania) pointed to the workshop’s emphasis on the need to build healing and compassionate environments. “We are on parallel tracks,” she said. “The issues of building healthy communities, engaging citizens, and creating healing environments are things that we ought to be doing together.”
Winston Wong (Kaiser Permanente) observed that the workshop went far beyond medicine to what health equity means in communities. The United States has “criminalized issues with regards to community and historical trauma, which has manifested in the proxies of mental illness, emotional trauma, and substance use,” he said. Much of this burden falls on communities of color and poor communities, and responding to this burden requires more than a medical response. “We have to create a new construct of what that means for health, and for the medical system specifically.” Health care now consumes one of every $6 in the United States, he reminded the workshop participants, which absorbs resources that could help reverse the trend of mass incarceration.
Kendall Campbell (Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University) echoed these comments in pointing out that addressing the problem requires investing in people, “and we are not seeing that.” Campbell was particularly struck by Kempis Songster’s remarks about the siren song
calling children to the streets and about the need to help them control their impulses (see Chapter 2). He also reflected on Jamie Fader’s observations about how people being released from prisons can come to be accepted into communities and earn “insider status” (see Chapter 5). “How do we teach, or how do we bring about, insider status before someone gets incarcerated?”
Melissa Simon (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) talked about infusing, integrating, and operationalizing love into polices. “We are all humans, and everyone at the end of the day wants to be respected and have dignity.” Incarceration could be focused on building that respect and dignity rather than destroying it, she said.
Jeffrey Henderson (Black Hills Center for American Indian Health) returned to the theme of equity in the criminal justice system and health equity. Most people with influence over the criminal justice system probably do not think much about how their actions affect health equity, he said, yet the workshop made the connection obvious. “This workshop has helped all of us realize that there is a role for each and every one of us to play in helping to drive toward solutions to mass incarceration and mass supervision,” he said. “The message for me, personally, is to continue to spotlight the issue of criminal justice in west and South Dakota, armed with new information, more inspiration, and contacts with people here.”