Seizing the Moment: Policy Advocacy to End Mass Incarceration in the Time of COVID-19

Health Educ Behav. 2020 Aug;47(4):514-518. doi: 10.1177/1090198120933281. Epub 2020 Jun 9.


The mass human and economic casualties wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the deep inequities at the base of the disproportionate losses and suffering experienced by diverse U.S. populations. But the urgency and enormity of unmet needs requiring bold policy action also provided a unique opportunity to learn from and partner with community-based organizations that often are at the frontlines of such work. Following a review of Kingdon's model of the policy-making process, we illustrate how a partnership in a large California county navigated the streams in the policy-making process and used the window of opportunity provided by the pandemic to address a major public health problem: the incarceration of over 2 million people, disproportionately African American and Latinx, in overcrowded, unsafe jails, prisons, and detention centers. We highlight tactics and strategies used, challenges faced, and implications for health educators as policy advocates during and beyond the pandemic.

Keywords: mass incarceration; policy advocacy.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Hispanic Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Policy Making*
  • Politics
  • Prisons / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States / epidemiology