Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., defended her call for potential "prison abolition" as part of broader restructuring of the criminal justice system, in a series of tweets Monday.
"Mass incarceration is our American reality. It is a system whose logic evolved from the same lineage as Jim Crow, American apartheid, & slavery," Ocasio-Cortez wrote in reaction to a tweet from comedian Chelsea Handler. "To end it, we have to change. That means we need to have a real conversation about decarceration & prison abolition in this country."
The Democrat recalled a conversation she had with a woman who was "thrown into Rikers [Island] as a teenager" and was "put in solitary confinement for months," which she called "torture."
"The conditions were so bad, she too had drank out of toilets," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "A cage is a cage is a cage. And humans don’t belong in them."
Later in the day, Ocasio-Cortez defended her use of the term "prison abolition," pointing to statistics that showed the U.S. "incarcerates more than anywhere in the world."
"I know the term 'prison abolition' is breaking some people’s brains. The right is already freaking out," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted to start a thread. "Yet the US incarcerates more than anywhere in the world. We have more than enough room to close many of our prisons and explore just alternatives to incarceration."
"First of all, many people in jailed or in prison don’t belong there at all. Whether it’s punitive sentencing for marijuana possession or jailing people for their poverty & letting the rich free through systems like cash bail, we wrongly incarcerate far, far too many people.
"Secondly, our prison & jail system is so large bc we use them as de facto mental hospitals, homeless shelters, & detox centers instead of *actually* investing in... mental health, housing, edu, & rehab. If we invested meaningfully, what do you think would happen to crime?"
She continued: "Lastly, people tend to say 'what do you do with all the violent people?' as a defense for incarcerating millions. Our lawmaking process means we come to solutions together, & either way we should work to an end where our prison system is dramatically smaller than it is today."
A report published in March by the Prison Policy Initiative stated almost 2.3 million people were "held by the American justice system."