The HEAL Initiative of the Center for Law and Justice
The Center for Law and Justice’s HEAL initiative (Health, Education, Advocacy and LEAD) addresses issues emanating from the intricate interactions among health care, poverty, race, and criminal justice in the Capital District. The city of Albany, like many jurisdictions throughout the country, now acknowledges that substance use disorders are more effectively and equitably dealt with in the health care system, rather than in the criminal justice system. The four key elements of HEAL provide a comprehensive approach in making the transition from substance abuse concerns treated as drug crimes, to substance abuse concerns treated as health matters.
The first element, Health, recognizes how powerfully the stress of poverty and racism contributes to relatively poorer health conditions in minority neighborhoods. According to a 2013 report, Capital District Black non-Hispanics had more than five times the percent of population below the poverty level compared to White non-Hispanics. Black non-Hispanics had twice as high diabetes mortality rates; more than three times higher diabetes hospitalization rates; and more than four times the asthma hospitalization rates of White non-Hispanics. Individuals in the criminal justice system face exposure to even worse health conditions in jails and prisons. The VERA Institute of Justice notes that “Over the last 40 years the criminal justice system has expanded to such a degree that, today, mass incarceration is one of the major contributors to poor health in communities.” Support is needed during re-entry to the community after release from incarceration, to make connections with community health resources.
The second element, Education, refers to the Center’s partnership with health care providers (such as Albany Medical Center, the Albany School of Pharmacy, and others) for the purposes of identifying major health issues in low-income communities, and educating residents regarding prevention and treatment. Anticipated seminars include training people how to manage such health care risks as high blood pressure; instructing residents regarding the structure of the health care system and how to navigate it; and teaching residents how to obtain health insurance coverage.
The third element, Advocacy, embodies all that the Center does to promote fairness and equal treatment for all in the criminal and social justice systems. Guided by Michelle Alexander’s revelation that mass incarceration is today’s racial caste system, the Center encourages grassroots community organizing in search of Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation.
The fourth element, LEAD, refers to the Center’s role as one of the founders of Albany’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion initiative. With several partners (the County Executive, the Mayor, the County Sheriff, the Albany Police Chief, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, and the Central Avenue Business Improvement District), the Center is working to implement a program that diverts low-level offenders from the criminal justice system to appropriate health and social services providers.