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Brie Williams

Emerson Collective Fellowship

Working to transform U.S. prisons into centers of restorative justice and rehabilitation.

Brie Williams is a practicing physician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where she specializes in public health, geriatrics, and palliative care. Williams has worked throughout her career to reform U.S. prisons—testifying as a medical expert on the harmful effects of solitary confinement and the need to expand access to compassionate-release policies for people of advanced age or with serious illness and successfully advocating for statutory and policy changes. She serves as the director of Amend, a program focused on transforming the dehumanizing culture of mass incarceration, as well as the director of the ARCH (Aging Research in Criminal Justice Health) Network, which works to improve understanding of the health, human rights, and social-service concerns of older adults who interact with the criminal justice system.

Correctional facilities in the United States had been epicenters of infectious disease long before COVID-19. The pandemic has only made conditions worse—accelerating human and civil-rights violations, and putting at even greater risk the health and lives of thousands of incarcerated people and staff. At the same time, a growing national awareness of racial injustice has made the demand for prison reform more urgent than ever.

As an Emerson Collective Fellow, Williams is partnering with community-based organizations to expand Amend’s programming to prompt U.S. correctional staff and other leaders to reckon with the painful history of racism and racial violence in the U.S. She is building a curriculum that engages correctional staff and community leaders in considering the devastating role that racial and educational injustice play in U.S. prison culture and mass incarceration, and the role that restorative justice approaches could play in improving prison culture during the COVID-19 pandemic.