Mass incarceration is a major theme of your novel. What do you believe are the first steps to change?
When I was writing, I never even thought I would utter the words “abolition” or “defund the police.” It was so radical, even though those are things I actually believe in. Now, my perspective is much more aggressive.
There are states that implement the no-jail-snitch rule and I think that should be standardized across the country. There are a lot of cases where people are in jail because someone who is a jailhouse snitch has an incentive to falsify information against another.
There needs to be a larger divide within our criminal justice system. From prosecution, to defense, to the judge, to the police—they all know each other very well. Even when they’re working against each other, they still have to navigate the same systems and relationships and it creates a flawed environment.
The other piece is that plea deal scenarios are so rampant! Bryan Stevenson talks about how if you don’t have the capital, you’re going to get punishment. A lot of our Black, brown, and poor communities don’t have the funds to defend themselves. So there are a lot of plea deals and no contests because people are like, “Well, I don’t want the death penalty, so I guess I’ll take 20 years.”
Another bigger conversation is funding.
I work in higher Ed at a university; we’re going through budget-cut scenarios right now because of the pandemic and we know we will not have enough students to cover us as a public institution. This is common for education. K–12 schools aren’t funded in the way that they should be. Most state schools have less than 7% support in state funding.
I believe we should defund the police and invest in communities, counselors, and public safety. I don’t think public safety is just the police policing. We should have them, but there are other things we should have more of and we don’t need the amount of policing that we currently have.
California has built more prisons than they have schools in the last 10 years. We’re not investing in our communities or mental health. We’re not investing in jobs or education and we should be.