The Kansas City Alternatives to Incarceration Commission hosted a public hearing recently that was nothing short of a seismic shift in the city’s conversation around incarceration.
The hearing, featuring voices from across the community, was dominated by calls to rethink plans to build a new jail, favoring community-based solutions over punitive measures.
Decarcerate KC, a local abolitionist organization, played a pivotal role in the hearing. From once being brushed aside by city council members and politicians, the organization is now emerging as a force to be reckoned with. They have been instrumental in advocating against the construction of a new jail, rallying around their strategy hashtag #NoNewJailKC.
The organization’s influence has already led the Commission to vote against recommending any number of jail beds to the city council, a significant victory that signals a changing tide in local policy.
The voices of those advocating against the new jail were diverse but united. They included formerly incarcerated individuals, houseless people, and members from the city’s working class, Black, and Brown communities.
Their testimonies painted a vivid picture of the urgent need for alternatives to incarceration, shedding light on the real-life implications of putting people behind bars rather than addressing the root causes of crime.
One powerful testimony came from Danielle, who highlighted how the city could use savings from not building a jail to fund mentorship programs for kids and assist people in paying off city fines that could otherwise lead to incarceration.
Meanwhile, testimonies advocating for the jail were significantly fewer and predominantly came from older white male business owners. Their arguments lacked alternatives, focusing more on protecting business interests than community welfare.
In an impassioned address, Crystal reminded the audience that “it is unfair to incarcerate someone in an institution before they’ve been convicted of a crime,” calling for an end to cash bail.
A notable presence at the hearing was the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD), who claimed their role was to connect people to resources. This statement was met with skepticism by community members who stressed that police presence often incites fear in impacted communities.
Jamie, another community member, drew attention to the immense cost of constructing a new jail and the vested interests of businesses that stand to profit from it.
This watershed moment for Kansas City could be a stepping stone towards significant changes in the city’s approach to justice and incarceration. As this momentum continues, organizations like Decarcerate KC will undoubtedly play a crucial role in reshaping the narrative around incarceration, advocating for comprehensive alternatives that prioritize the community over cages.