Stop Making the BR Police the “Clean Up Woman” to Our City Failures

As we live once again in a cycle of rising crime, our addiction to making the police the “clean up woman” is actually preventing us from addressing root cause issues and making us less safe every day.


The song, “The Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright details a character that picks up the pieces that others leave behind. Similarly, here in Baton Rouge, our government has historically passed the buck on addressing real societal issues and instead, when those issues ultimately manifest themselves in poverty and mental illness, we incarcerate them. That’s our version of sweeping our problems under the rug.

In the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison facility, there are 32 separate policing agencies that supply this pretrial detention center with human bodies. A significant portion of those who are housed in this notoriously deadly facility are, in fact, there because of that neglect on the front end. The prison is full of individuals housed because they were homeless, or had a mental health crisis, or reverted to an “any means necessary” approach to getting food on their table and a roof over their head. We jail them because it’s easier than taking care of them.

We tend to cycle those who struggle with a myriad of serious mental illnesses in and out of that penal facilities instead of addressing those issues head-on. It’s easier to brush those who have additional needs into prison instead of catering to those needs and ultimately ensuring them a better quality of life.

We neglect those in the shadow of our society as early as childhood, relegating poor kids and foster kids to a second-class experience in the school systems. It’s no wonder why, for example, there’s such a high rate of foster children who age out and wind up incarcerated. Society left them behind because we wouldn’t accept the responsibility earlier to more properly attend to their needs.

Poverty has been practically criminalized by statue in East Baton Rouge, so much so that the work of sheltering those who cannot afford increasing housing prices & rent is left to the police. Addiction in low wealth communities is addressed as a criminal affair. It is easier to ignore decades of subpar healthcare – especially behavioral healthcare – by trying to make de facto detox centers out of facilities that are more known for their cruelty and lack of services.

Police are, in fact, the least qualified to address these issues, often the least willing, and in many cases, the most glaring victims of this societal misplacement of accountability. They were never trained for or expected to be the catch-all resource when it came to domestic violence, addiction, mental illness, and housing policy. That’s not supposed to be their job. That’s ours, collectively. That’s what good policy addresses. But instead, our leadership in this town has decided to choose the path of least responsibility.

And that choice makes all of us less safe.

About Author /

Rev. Anderson is the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization P.R.E.A.C.H as well as a leader with the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition. An ordained minister for over 25 years, she has been a powerful and nationally-recognized voice for social justice and financial literacy.

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