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Criminal Justice Organizations Issue COVID-19 Demands, Action Plan to Protect 2.3 Million Incarcerated People

For Immediate Release

March 16, 2020



Justin Henry

(212) 897-2083



More Than 50 National and Local Reform Groups Call on Authorities to Deploy Just, Humane Response in Likely Event of Outbreak in U.S. Jails and Prisons 


Today, more than 50 criminal justice reform organizations issued a comprehensive list of demands and suggested action steps to ensure a just and humane response to an inevitable COVID-19 outbreak in jails and prisons. With 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States on a given day, an outbreak at even one of these facilities could pose a threat to the entire country. 

The group developed its demands in consultation with activists, legal experts, and individuals with lived experience and will use this framework to guide government action to mitigate the impacts of a global pandemic on vulnerable prison populations. Demands address both immediate government shortfalls in response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as long-term systemic issues that put this population at higher risk during a health crisis. They include following CDC recommendations and health care best practices to prevent the spread of disease, ending reliance on grossly underpaid prison labor to address the COVID-19 crisis, eliminating the false narrative that criminalizing Black and Brown communities supports public health, and calling for basic measures of fairness from prison contractors at the local state, and federal levels. The full list of demands is available here.

“With coronavirus anxieties at an all-time high, we cannot lose sight of the dangers for our most vulnerable populations. Mass incarceration is a public health issue,” said Scott Roberts, Senior Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at Color Of Change. “Incarcerated men and women already face poor health outcomes due to close living quarters, unsanitary prison conditions, and inadequate health care. In the wake of a global pandemic, they are particularly susceptible to infection. Local, state, and federal prison officials must take careful steps to prevent the spread of this disease and work in earnest to protect the health, safety, and dignity of those behind bars.

“Today, we are issuing these demands to inform a humane response to COVID-19. Too often, these crises are met with cruelty and negligence and we cannot allow poor decision-making to put these disproportionately Black lives at risk. But with an eye towards these fair, safe, and sensible preventative measures, authorities can play a crucial role in protecting imprisoned men and women and, in turn, the general public.”

As the national coronavirus crisis grows dire, attention has turned to the potential for disaster should an outbreak occur in U.S. jails and prisons. According to health experts and news reports, such an outbreak is almost inevitable and, if it occurs, the disease is expected to spread rapidly, due to close living quarters, unsanitary prison conditions, and a large prison population that is highly susceptible to the virus.

The risk, however, extends far beyond those who are incarcerated. A potential COVID-19 outbreak in jails and prisons would threaten the larger public as the hundreds of thousands of individuals who cycle in and out of jails on a daily basis, including correctional staff, health care practitioners, and others, engage with their communities. 

Federal, state, and local officials must take swift action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons, jails, and detention centers, not only to ensure the safety and wellness of our loved ones behind bars, but also to protect the general public.

More than 50 criminal justice organizations have signed on to these demands, including:

  • Color Of Change
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  • Detroit Justice Center
  • Dignity and Power Now
  • Worth Rises
  • New York Campaign For Alternatives To Isolated Confinement
  • Philadelphia Bail Fund
  • Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP
  • White People 4 Black Lives
  • Parole Preparation Project
  • The Justice Collaborative
  • Prison Policy Initiative
  • Center for Popular Democracy
  • Movement Alliance Project (formerly known as Media Mobilizing Project)
  • Prevention Point Philadelphia
  • Center for Community Alternatives
  • JustLeadership USA
  • Essie Justice Group
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Advancement Project
  • Tucson Second Chance Community Bail Fund
  • Mijente
  • Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
  • Legal Aid Justice Center
  • The Mass Liberation Project
  • Advancement Project National Office
  • California Coalition for Women Prisoners
  • Philadelphia Community Bail Fund
  • Law for Black Lives
  • Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project
  • Decarcerate Sacramento
  • Prosecutor Impact
  • The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
  • The Bail Project
  • Families for Justice as Healing
  • Michigan Liberation
  • Never Again Action – Los Angeles
  • The Bronx Defenders
  • Silicon Valley De-Bug
  • NHCUCC Immigrant and Refugee Support Group
  • Mass Liberation Arizona
  • Shriver Center on Poverty Law
  • The Promise of Justice Initiative
  • National Bail Fund Network
  • Chicago Community Bond Fund
  • Community Justice Exchange
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
  • Civil Rights Corps
  • California National Organization for Women 
  • Citizen Action of New York
  • One Love Global
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