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Justice Reform Advocates Launch #ClemencyWorks Campaign Urging U.S. Governors to Free Incarcerated People Amid COVID-19 Outbreak


Justin Henry

(908) 448-8397



Today, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and Color Of Change announced the launch of #ClemencyWorks, a campaign to free incarcerated people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this campaign, advocates in 27 states have helped over 200 incarcerated women submit applications for clemency to their governors. In addition, Color Of Change will deliver letters to governors in all 50 states urging them to use their clemency powers to release elderly, pregnant, immunocompromised, and other vulnerable individuals from prison to stop the spread of COVID-19. The full language of the letters is available here.

Andrea James, Founder and Executive Director of The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said: “During this difficult time due to COVID-19, now more than ever we need to begin the shift from a system focused on incarceration to one focused on human justice. Clemency is a tool that already exists and the use of it now would demonstrate true leadership. If it isn’t used by those with the power, it lays bare for the entire world to see the intentional cruelty of this system. #FreeHer.”

Scott Roberts, Senior Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at Color Of Change, said: “Mass incarceration is and has always been a public health crisis. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, any official response that does not take steps to reduce the prison population amounts to a death sentence for the 2.3 million people incarcerated nationwide. Our governors have always had the authority to release incarcerated people by granting clemency; they have simply opted not to use it. Now, with our jails and prisons on the brink of humanitarian disaster, state officials continue to sit on their hands while men and women perish needlessly behind bars. We cannot wait any longer. Governors across the country must exercise their clemency powers to stop the spread of this deadly virus before it gets any worse.”

Anisah Sabur, Coordinator at The Coalition for Women Prisoners, said: “Governor Cuomo, you have sole discretion to grant clemency to people serving in prisons in New York State. Thousands of women are languishing in prison, exposed daily to deadly health and safety conditions posed by COVID-19. Many have pending clemency applications pre-dating the pandemic; others were scheduled for release prior to the shutdown, and still more are especially vulnerable to the virus because they are elderly and/or have pre-existing conditions. Governor Cuomo, you can and must take swift and sweeping action to free these women NOW. Failure to act immediately will result in more loss of life and danger to all New Yorkers.”

Marilynn Winn, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Women on the Rise GA, said: “Women in prison are in a state of panic and are overwhelmed by the outbreak and what is going on in the outside world as well as behind the wall where they reside. Releasing women who are at risk is not only for the safety of the women there but for the safety of the whole community. Many officials would rather keep women incarcerated and at risk of being exposed than to release them and stop this epidemic that is going on behind bars. ‘In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity,’ said Albert Einstein. With this thinking, we can take this opportunity and help release women through clemency therefore stopping this virus from spreading even more.”  

Women Against Mass Incarceration said: “Amid this pandemic of COVD-19  we lost so many and are at risk of losing so many more especially behind the prison walls. The Coronavirus is an imposed death sentence for our loved ones behind the prison walls. They are not able to practice social distancing or safe healthy hygiene methods to ward off the infectious virus. The recirculated air and already-unsanitized environment spell breeding ground for our family members behind the wall. Death by COVID-19 can be avoided. #FreeOurPeople #FreeHer.”

As COVID-19 spreads to communities across the U.S., people trapped in jails and prisons face a high and disproportionate risk of contracting the virus. Incarcerated men and women are subject to overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate health care. They are forced to share bathrooms and lack access to soap, hand sanitizer, and medical supplies. And despite thousands of reported infections in facilities across the country, incarcerated people are not being tested for coronavirus upon request. By granting clemency, U.S. governors can release vulnerable people to safety with the stroke of a pen. Yet they have refused to do so. 

#ClemencyWorks encourages those concerned about the treatment of incarcerated people during this crisis to contact their governors and demand that they exercise their clemency powers. Advocates from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls are simultaneously reviewing and submitting clemency applications on behalf of 200 incarcerated women in 26 states, including New York, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Connecticut, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Illinois, Nevada, Vermont, and Louisiana. 

Fox and Rob Rich, organizers at Participatory Defense Movement NOLA, said: “As 2018 clemency recipients, we know that #clemencyworks. It worked for our family and it will work to save lives like Gloria ‘MamaGlo’ Dean Williams who, at 74 years old, now faces a death sentence with at least 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Louisiana prison where she is currently housed. Now is the time for Governor John Bel Edwards to exercise the power of his pen and #FREEMamaGLO along with the 13 other aging women recommended for a pardon in the state of Louisiana.”

Mallory Hanora, Executive Director at Families for Justice as Healing, said: “Incarceration is always harmful. Now, jails and prisons are deadlier than ever. This is exactly the right moment to divest from incarceration and invest in what women and our communities really need to be healthy: housing, healthcare, and economic opportunity. Clemency is an immediate next step. Governors can release women who are aging, women with health conditions, women who have decades of time already, mothers, and caretakers. Women who can come home and will be part of leading us all toward wellbeing.”

Dawn Harrington, Executive Director at Free Hearts said: “April is Second Chance Month recognized by Governors and the President. For a while, we have been telling our Governors and our President to grant our sisters clemency – a second chance. This second chance has always been — and is even more now — a literal matter of life or death. We will not stand silent and let our mamas, grannies, daughters, sisters, and aunties die in prison. We will fight for our sisters because we love them and we want them home!  Sisters like Shantonio Hunter, Tarina Simmons, Shawnda James, Jannalee Wilson, Natasha Lewis, Cheryl Holland, Deborah Mark, Ute Ferrell, Alicia Lovera and many more sisters in Tennessee and around the country — I am not free until she is free. We are not free until we are all free!” 

Phylis “Grandma” Hardy of the The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls said: “Our governor, Roy Cooper, announced that incarcerated people in North Carolina jails and prisons are safer there than being released. But no person is safe in prison!”

Judy Henderson of the The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls said: “Now is the time for Missouri Governor Mike Parsons to reveal not only his humanitarian side but prove his ability to govern with gospel truth, not political fiction. When will he show us, as he often likes to say, that ALL lives really do matter in Missouri?” 


The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls works to end incarceration of women and girls.

Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 1.4 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and governments to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America. Visit

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