Three people were dying in America's jail every day, before the pandemic even began.

This morning The Atlantic launched a five-part investigative series on preventable jail deaths and the alternatives to jails that are saving lives

I’ve been working on this series for the last six months. The first piece, After a 911 Call, written by myself and co-reported with Jean Casella, Katie Rose Quandt and Andrew Stelzer, is an intimate look at two families on the frontlines of our nation’s jail and mental health crisis.

Both their sons ended up in jail following a mental health break, and only one of them survived. A radio component to this piece is featured on Reveal podcast and KALW, by Andrew Stelzer. This investigation would not have been possible without the support of The Pulitzer Center and Alicia Patterson Foundation.

This investigation was born from the same impulse that motivates this newsletter: the opportunity this dreadful pandemic has given our society to question itself

Our jails are filled with people who society has failed many times over. They are held in often dangerous, often torturous conditions while awaiting trial, and some never make it that long. After a 911 Call looks at how the policies, practices and services available from one county to the next affect who lives and who dies. What would our country look like if we put the needs of our most vulnerable populations at the center of public safety, instead of consistently leaving them out? 

Last summer’s national uprising for racial justice and to defund the police was an unforgettable reminder that every person of color in this country is a potential target. Our system of racial supremacy is not something you can opt out of as a Black or Brown person, no matter how hard you try to protect yourself and your family. That’s why our institutions must be designed to correct for the racism baked into their very fabric. 

PLEASE help me spread the word with these sample TWEETS:

Excellent new piece just out in @TheAtlantic. An intimate look at two families on the front lines our nation's epidemic of jails deaths and the powerful shift towards alternatives that treat mental illness and save lives. This is a 5-part series, so stay tuned. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/01/when-mental-health-crisis-lands-you-jail/617599/

Three people were dying in America's jail every day before the pandemic even began. My new piece is an intimate look at two families: "If I would have manned up and punched that officer," says Jaime, "I could have been taken to jail and protected my son." https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/01/when-mental-health-crisis-lands-you-jail/617599/

“Six months, a year, you’ll be interviewing someone else because their son passed away in that jail.” How America’s jails have become a death trap for people in a mental-health crisis, and why we must do better. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/01/when-mental-health-crisis-lands-you-jail/617599/

And a glimpse of the next four articles in the series: 

2. An overview of the U.S. jail crisis, looking at how political policies and practices contribute to the prevalence of jail deaths. By Jean Casella

3. A look at deaths and growing incarceration in rural and small-city jails in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. By Katie Rose Quandt

4. Learning from the tension between jail reform and abolition, Cook County Jail and restorative justice in Chicago, Illinois. By Sarah Shourd

5. What’s blocking change in Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland, Ohio, and across the country? By Katie Rose Quandt

Lastly, to the families of Christian Madrigal and Carlos Zuñiga, I am completely in awe of your strength, vision and bravery.

Working with you has been the gift of a lifetime. 

Sarah Shourd