Letter: No new jail in Haywood County

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Haywood County leaders have proposed a $16.5 million expansion of the Haywood County detention center. The Party for Socialism and Liberation strongly opposes the expansion of the jail in Haywood County. That such a proposal is being made in the middle of a pandemic, when people are suffering from unemployment, illness and isolation, is testimony to the heartlessness of the prison system.

In Haywood County, only 37% of the inmates face felony charges, implying that 63% of the inmates have misdemeanors as their top charge. A Western Carolina University study shows that 85% of the people in Haywood County jail showed signs consistent with substance abuse disorder, more than 50% of inmates have symptoms of PTSD, and a third suffered from symptoms of depression. In a region that has been impacted extensively by the opioid crisis, is it justice to imprison people suffering from substance abuse disorders?

If we are a community that cares, what would our justice system look like? We would be investing in our people, in health care, mental health services, public transportation, schools, infrastructure and social services. But the police system as it exists now continues to incarcerate the most vulnerable, while defending the interests of the ruling class. When victims of the opioid crisis suffer in jails, the ruling class — such as the Sackler family, who owns Purdue Pharma, which profited from unleashing this public health crisis — has escaped true accountability. Jail was never about the public or safety.

If the Haywood County leaders truly cared about people, they would request funds for mental health resources to help those suffering from substance abuse issues rather than criminalizing them. Every dollar spent on the expansion of the jail is a dollar not available for services that do serve the community — public hospitals, public schools, mental health resources, social services, roads and so much more.

In the summer of 2020, the United States saw a much-needed multiracial uprising that had one demand: abolish police. A demand that recognized the vastly anti-poor and racist nature of the police system. When more than 85% of inmates in the Haywood County detention center suffer from substance abuse issues, we need to reflect on what constitutes a “crime.” The demand for abolitionism is the voice of all working-class people (Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and white) in united protest against the persecution they experience from a racist, anti-poor, anti-immigrant policing system.

While the end goal is abolitionism, there is an immediate task at hand. The incarceration rate in Haywood County has increased 133% percent between 2000 and 2018. How many more people should suffer before we stand up against this injustice? The Party for Socialism and Liberation stands in solidarity with the people’s demand: No new jail in Haywood County.

— Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation: Nathan Mann and Tracy Mann of Sylva; Faye Gant and Sarah DeArmon of Cullowhee; Justin Lee of Cherokee; and Max Reed of Woodfin


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