‘It does take a village’: How a new student organization is fighting the prison system

Kayla Solino | @kaylasolino, Staff Reporter

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 prelaw track majoring in criminal justice and political science, worked on the idea for the organization over the last year and held the first meeting for Tide Against Time on Friday, Jan. 21, via Zoom. 

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

“I recently had a federal internship with a judge in Tuscaloosa this past summer,” she said. “And so he let us observe a lot of court proceedings, a lot of hearings. I immediately became very sensitive to the issues of the community, seeing the type of things that people go through on an individual basis, and how certain political and socioeconomic trends affect the lives of different people.” 

The United States’ incarcerated population has increased by 500% since 1970. Despite only making up around 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. is home to more than 20% of the world’s incarcerated population, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In the state of Alabama, more than 46,000 people are incarcerated in either local jails or state and federal prisons. 

Pouncy said part of the creation of Tide Against Time was centered around creating a space for people of color and other minorities that are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. 

“I felt like making this club at the University would be an amazing way to make people aware of those issues, and would give us a great opportunity to engage in service opportunities and advocacy opportunities that would give us the chance to touch people who have been impacted by the system,” Pouncy said. 

One in 3 Black boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes. One in 17 white boys face the same fate. Women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the U.S.  

Pouncy said she wants to bring attention to the issue of mass incarceration, educate individuals and make change in her community through the establishment of Tide Against Time. She hopes to organize projects to spread awareness in addition to organizing relevant, impactful service projects for students. 

“The mission of Tide Against Time at the University is really to educate students on 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, systems of safety, rehabilitation, etc. within the prison system,” Pouncy said. “I feel like the overall goal of the organization is to strive to conquer these political and socioeconomic issues.” 

Tide Against Time shares similar motivations with another student group on campus, Alabama Students Against Prisons. ASAP was first established to represent student perspectives on incarceration and to protest Gov. Kay Ivey’s leasing of two new private, mega-prisons in the state, which will cost taxpayers $3 billion over 30 years. 

Pouncy said it’s important to spread awareness about the range of incarceration issues that occur in Alabama, including increased prison expansion, COVID-19 concerns, mental health issues and sexual assault. 

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

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama for the “unconstitutional conditions” in state prisons for men. 

“The United States Constitution requires Alabama to make sure that its prisons are safe and humane,” said Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice conducted a thorough investigation of Alabama’s prisons for men and determined that Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence. The violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries.”

Pouncy said further expansions of unsafe prisons would be a mistake. 

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

In October 2021, Ivey signed a $1.3 billion prison construction bill. The bill allows the construction of at least two new prisons that will hold a combined 8,000 individuals. The Senate approved the use of $400 million in COVID-19 funds designed specifically for state and local governments to use for the 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 wanting to learn and willing to help and make their impact in this community,” Pouncy said. “It does take a village. I feel like the first step to conquering this problem on a wide scale is to be aware of what’s going on.” 

This story was published in the Justice Edition. View the complete issue here.

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