[UPDATES: Check out the Feb 1st COVID Clemency Caravan and Day of Action organizing and media kit to start plugging in; use the event page in this link to invite your network and communicate with others. Can’t make it to DC? Check out this call for decentralized actions]
As a new administration enters the White House, we want to make clear, immediate demands to reduce and reverse the harm done by the past year of pandemic negligence in prisons and jails.
We will converge 1 p.m. at the U.S. Department of Justice, 600 E St NW, Washington, DC 20004.
Bring signs, banners and noise to demand expedited executive clemency for prisoners, as well as investigation and enforcement action in all federal, state and local prisons to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19 among prisoners who are unable to socially distance or access proper PPE to protect themselves.
If you can’t make it to DC, please consider planning something in your local community for February 1st, Freedom Day. Let us know what you are up to using this form.
Reports updated as of Jan. 19, show at least 355,957 prisoners have gotten the virus, and more than 2,232 died as a result of it. The pandemic has resulted in prisons and jails abusing isolation more than ever before. Social distance is necessary but solitary confinement is torture.
Reducing the number of people behind bars must be the number one priority, and it is already long overdue.
While the CDC has acknowledged the danger in prisons, it has fallen short of advocating the level of decarceration that is needed to truly implement its guidelines.
There are over 6,000 state, local and federal prisons across the United States. Many of them have become hotspots of Covid-19, with disproportionately high impacts among Black and Latinx prisoners, particularly in Southern states.
A recent statement from the DOJ in regards to COVID-19 in public nursing homes offers an example of the sort of power they have to push state, federal and local facilities towards safer settings for vulnerable prisoner populations The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced on Aug 26, 2020 that is looking towards investigations under the federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA), which protects the civil rights of persons in state-run nursing home facilities. This can and should be applied to prisons and jails.
In that statement, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division stated that “Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members…is one of our country’s most important obligations.”
The agency has filed federal lawsuits against several state and county facilities over conditions of abuse and neglect, as well as against the entire Alabama state prison system over abysmal conditions. This is an example of what the DOJ can do. It’s a start, but its not enough.
Research from Johns Hopkins and UCLA shows prisoners are 550% more likely to catch COVID-19, and 300% more likely to die from it than the general population. In mid-August, the New York Times COVID-19 Case Tracker listed 84 of the top 100 COVID-19 outbreak hotspots in the country as prisons and jails. Fifteen of them located in Florida’s incarceration system alone, for example. Immediate DOJ investigations into these state prisons systems could apply significant pressure to force life-saving changes.
If we do not get a sufficient response from the DOJ, we will take the issue to the United Nations to call for international attention on the reckless negligence of U.S. institutions with regards to the lives of prisoners in this pandemic.
What is “National Freedom Day”?
Its an obscure holiday to most, but one we should be getting more familiar with and holding the U.S. to it.
A 1949 U.S. Presidential Proclamation created National Freedom Day to commemorate both the passage of the 13th Amendment on that day 84 years before and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations a year prior, which declares that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”