FIGHT conference addresses mass imprisonment, health disparities

FIGHT conference addresses mass imprisonment, health disparities

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As part of its annual AIDS Education Month, Philadelphia FIGHT will present “Beyond the Walls: Prison Healthcare and Reentry Summit,” a day filled with workshops and presentations centered on mass imprisonment, the needs of current and former prisoners, communities affected by HIV and the work being done to improve these conditions.

“This conference really is an opportunity for us to explore the intersections between health disparities and mass imprisonment,” said Hannah Zellman, director of FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice. “Our goal is to really bring together all of the communities that are impacted by these systems — folks with lived experience who have been on the inside, their loved ones and family members, people working in corrections, social workers, medical providers, the whole gamut of folks who have some stake and some interest in this.”

Zellman noted that the June 28 conference features the participation of individuals who are currently incarcerated, including through what Zellman called “one of the most successful parts of the conference every year” — the Art as Resistance gallery. This exhibit includes work from artists who are either currently incarcerated or recently released. 

Additionally, incarcerated individuals created several workshops that will feature live call-ins from facilitators and panelists within the prison system. 

“[I hope attendees can] stop thinking of people who have been incarcerated as ‘other’ [and] understand how deeply important people who are incarcerated and people who have been incarcerated are to the fabric, wellness and wholeness of our communities,” Zellman said.

Zellman noted some of the “heavy-hitting” topics this year. 

“I think that a lot of people are thinking a lot about Hep-C, injection-drug use and the opiate epidemic right now, so that’s going to be featured pretty heavily,” Zellman said.

The event will also include several guest speakers, including Alison O. Jordan, the executive director for Transitional Health Care Coordination in the Division of Health Care Access and Improvement. Zellman noted Jordan is a leading expert on people living with HIV within prisons. Additionally, Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, will speak on the broader topic of drug criminalization. 

Additionally, Zellman said the event will show how prison systems are attempting to improve their conditions. She said some prisons offer programs for prisoners ranging from yoga to dealing with feelings of isolation.

“What we know is that when folks on the inside have meaningful access to education, skills-building and therapeutic opportunities, their lives are enhanced incredibly,” Zellman said. “Having those opportunities during their incarceration had huge long-terms effects on the wellbeing of folks once they come home.” 

Zellman said the conference typically attracts service providers, correctional officers and other community members who want to delve deeper into the topic. 

“Anyone who wants to learn more about this is welcome, but in particular, we really want to be making space for people who have been on the inside and their loved ones,” she said.

Beyond the Walls: Prison Healthcare and Reentry Summit will take place 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 28 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 13th and Arch streets. Visit www.aidseducationmonth.org/event-registration to register.


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