By Angeles Abigail Marin, (guest columnist)
With Sheriff Don Barnes announcing last week the end of the contract between the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to address mental health and substance abuse issues inside OC jails, there’s a looming change in the air for OC im(migrant) communities.
But before that, there’s one thing we want to make clear to OCSD.
We will NOT applaud to your minuscule efforts and recognition of a dire situation only after years of stripping detainees and inmates of their basic human rights. What would be applause-worthy is exercising your responsibility to release all immigrant detainees, shut down the entire detention system, and pay reparations to individuals and communities for the harm inflicted on them.
In making his decision, Barnes expressed that there’s a growth in mental health cases among inmates since 2015. If we take a short trip down memory lane, it’s hard to be in disbelief when we’ve known that OC jails have always lacked oversight and proper care.
Irvine’s James A. Musick facility, for example, will be temporarily shut down with some shady action happening behind the scenes. The plan is to eventually expand the facility with more rooms and “mental health” beds expected to be completed by 2020. Listen, OCSD may think it’s doing an honorable thing but without community input in making such decisions and without asking inmates about their needs, it’s doing everything wrong.
Expanding the number of mental health beds perpetuates the cycle of violence that occurs inside detention walls and also means more chances to criminalize yet more people. This wont solve the problem. What we need is to steer that energy into counseling and rehabilitation programs led by community that will help incoming people address their mental health disorders and addictions that can prevent conviction. It’s also important to keep in mind that once we’re able to successfully release detainees coming out of jails, they walk out vulnerable and need community-led programs to help address their traumatic experiences.
The contract was set to expire in July 2020 but early termination leads to people being transferred out faster, as proved in the past.
For OC organizers, shutting down detention centers has been a goal but not the ultimate one. We must not lose sight of the trajectory of our work and settle for what’s “good enough.” Now is the time to focus on the fates of many detainees that face an uncertain future. Unfairly transferring immigrant detainees away from legal support, family and community is not the direction towards better mental care and liberation.
The ultimate goal is to keep families together, shut down all facilities and liberation for all Trans, Black, Brown, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous people. It’s also implementing humane programs established by the community to aid trauma, addiction, disabilities, and disorders.