“It takes a whole village”: how a new student organization is fighting the prison system

Tide Against Time is a new organization dedicated to educating students about mass incarceration and the Alabama prison system.

Kaila Pouncy, a junior on the pre-law track majoring in criminal justice and political science, has been working on the idea for the organization for the past year and held the first meeting for Tide against time Friday, January 21 via Zoom.

Pouncy said her advocacy against mass incarceration was spurred by an internship experience that allowed her to sit in court proceedings.

“I recently had a federal internship with a judge in Tuscaloosa last summer,” she said. “And so he let us watch a lot of court proceedings, a lot of hearings. I immediately became very sensitive to community issues, seeing the kinds of things people go through individually and how certain political and socio-economic trends affect different people’s lives.

The prison population in the United States has increased by 500% since 1970. Although it only represents about 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home to more than 20% of the world’s prison population, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In the state of Alabama, more than 46,000 people are incarcerated in local prisons or state and federal prisons.

Pouncy said part of creating Tide Against Time was centered around creating space for people of color and other minorities who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration.

“I felt like starting this club at the University would be an amazing way to raise awareness about these issues and give us a great opportunity to engage in service opportunities and advocacy opportunities that would give us the chance to reach people who have been impacted by the system,” Pouncy said.

1 in 3 black boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys can expect to go to jail in their lifetime. One in 17 white boys suffers the same fate. Women are the fastest growing prison population in the USA

Pouncy said she wanted to bring attention to the issue of mass incarceration, educate individuals and bring about change in her community through the creation of Tide Against Time. She hopes to organize outreach projects in addition to organizing relevant and impactful service projects for students.

“Tide Against Time’s mission at the University is truly to educate students about the institution of mass incarceration in the American criminal justice system, and specifically to advocate for criminal justice reforms that promote education systems, health systems, security systems, rehabilitation, etc. within the prison system,” Pouncy said. “I feel like the overall goal of the organization is to strive to overcome these political and socio-economic problems.”

Tide Against Time shares similar motivations with another group of students on campus, Alabama Students Against Prisons. ASAP was first created to represent students’ views on incarceration and to expression Governor Kay Ivey’s lease of two new private mega-jails in the state that will cost taxpayers $3 billion over 30 years.

Pouncy said it was important to raise awareness of the range of incarceration issues occurring in Alabama, including increased prison expansion, COVID-19 issues, mental health issues and sexual assaults.

In 2018, Alabama prisons had a homicide rate 600% bigger than the national average. Sexual abuse, drug overdoses, inadequate mental health treatment and out-of-control violence have been reported in prisons across the state.

In December 2020, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama for “unconstitutional conditions” in men’s state prisons.

“The United States Constitution requires Alabama to ensure that its prisons are safe and humane,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice has conducted a thorough investigation of Alabama’s men’s prisons and has determined that Alabama has violated and continues to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with violence between prisoners and between guards. Violations have led to killings, rapes and serious injuries.

Pouncy said dangerous new prison expansions would be a mistake.

“I feel like Alabama is making a really big mistake with prison funding,” Pouncy said. “Especially during the pandemic, prisons, along with prisons, are some of the least safe places throughout this pandemic.”

In October 2021, Ivey signed a $1.3 billion prison construction bill. The bill authorizes the construction of at least two new prisons which will accommodate a total of 8,000 people. The Senate approved the use of $400 million in COVID-19 funds designed specifically for state and local governments to use for prison expansion.

Pouncy said Tide Against Time is open to any student interested in learning more about the Alabama prison system and mass incarceration.

“It really warms my heart to see people on campus eager to learn and ready to help and make an impact in this community,” Pouncy said. “You need a village. I feel like the first step to defeating this large-scale problem is to be aware of what’s going on.

This story was published in the Justice edition. See the full issue here.

Questions? Email the news desk at [email protected].

Virginia S. Braud