This op-ed by Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, Chicago Beyond’s Managing Director of Justice Initiatives, was published online on May 6, 2021 in USA Today.

When it comes to the American criminal justice system, much of the story has already been written for people trying to cope with mental illness, addiction and trauma. Approximately 40% of people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness, two-thirds have an active substance use disorder and nearly all have a history of trauma.

Help for those conditions over-incarceration is especially hard to attain for Black and brown people. This story has been a big part of my life.

I was 8 when more than a dozen police officers pounded on every corner of my family’s North Carolina home, then burst inside and arrested my father for minor marijuana-related crimes.

During my freshman year in college, a psychology textbook instructed me that young Black people with risk factors like mine were “doomed.”

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