There is a long history of collaboration between public health entities and the criminal legal system, including, but not limited to:
- organized efforts to share public health data with law enforcement entities
- deputizing police to enforce public health or provide health/social services
- participating in mandatory reporting systems that increase criminalization and vulnerability of survivors of violence, children, and families
- sharing the results of drug, HIV, etc. testing with law enforcement and family regulation systems
- relying on policing and criminalization as primary strategies to address public health problems such as gun violence
- participating in forced sterilization and eugenics of people in prison and immigrant detention
- offering public health methodologies that increase the scope, size and legitimacy of policing institutions e.g. “hotspot” policing, “trauma-informed” policing, "community" policing
- relying on law enforcement as a primary strategy to address gun violence, community violence, and other forms of violence
- public health research that uncritically builds the evidence base for policing tactics that we know are harmful for communities and condones policing as a viable response to social problems, etc.
- public health departments that inspect prisons, jails, and detention centers and rubber stamp the abysmal health conditions that are ubiquitous in these institutions
- hiring armed police to staff public health hospitals
- operating with a default acceptance that law enforcement are neutral or crucial community partners in social services
The intentions of such collaborations are typically to build a more effective public sector or a more compassionate or “healthy” criminal legal system, but result in increasing harm by validating and expanding policing/prison’s role in society. These collaborations create health inequity by disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and other people of color — particularly those who are women, queer, and trans/gender non-conforming.
In addition to collaboration with criminal legal systems, historically, public health has also participated in the medicalization and pathologization of structural, social issues and non-normative ways of being. In recent years, there has been an intentional shift from focusing on individual and behavioral “risk factors” to working on structural change and systems transformation. Resources in this section offer examples of ways that public health has contributed to carceral forms of social control. You will find more examples of this throughout this guide.