• Release people incarcerated pre-trial in Forsyth County
    Even though public visitation has been suspended at the LEDC, all people incarcerated are still at high risk for infection due to their close-quarters living situation. Any guard, other staff, or newly processed detainee could potentially introduce the virus into the population, where it would rapidly spread. Staff members and at least one person incarcerated at multiple prisons in other states already tested positive for COVID-19. It is only a matter of time before it reaches the LEDC as well. Drastically reducing the jail population will limit the harm COVID-19 is able to cause. This is especially true when it comes to those already vulnerable—the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. The longer the jail continues to house people, the greater the risk grows to those individuals, their attorneys, their families, LEDC staff, and the community at large. Measures such as visitation lockdowns and segregation are not likely to be effective. The daily churn of potentially asymptomatic people—both incarcerated and employed—in and out of the jail will facilitate the spread of COVID-19 within the jail and the community at large. The fewer people present in the LEDC, the lesser the risk. Mecklenburg and Buncombe counties—in addition to out-of-state jails in and around LosAngeles, Cleveland, and New York City—have already begun releasing incarcerated people in the interest of public health. The Forsyth County Community Bail Fund urges Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, District Attorney Jim O’Neill, Chief Magistrate Denise Hines, Clerk of Superior Court Renita Thompkins Linville, Chief Probation/Parole Officer Sherri Cook, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Hon. Todd Burke, and Chief District Judge Hon. Lisa Menefee to take necessary and immediate action to save lives. Signed, Forsyth County Community Bail Fund ACLU of North Carolina The Bail Project Community Justice Center Hate Out of Winston Prisoner Outreach Initiative Triad NC Socialist Rifle Association Wake Forest Baptist Church Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America Aramie Bloom Julie Brady Jen Oleniczak Brown - Fearless Winston-Salem Richardo Brown Jocelyn Bryant - Triad Central Labor Council President Chris Cecile - Triad Central Labor Council Vice President Nathan Davis Sara González Ricky Johnson Jr. Chris Lutz Pastor Lia Scholl Molly Morgan Lillian Podlog Cody Remillard Emily Thompson Brittany Ward
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  • Humanity Not Cages: Demand a Just and Humane Response to COVID-19
    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the legal system to a halt in Los Angeles County. Superior Court Judge Kevin Brazile, the county’s presiding judge, has issued three orders taking steps to address COVID-19, but none of them outline the policies necessary to quickly and appropriately depopulate the jails—the most important way to curb the spread of the disease and save thousands of lives. On March 17, Brazile issued his initial order closing all courts in the county for three days. Five days later, he ordered the Sylmar Courthouse to be closed for three days following the news that a deputy public defender tested positive for coronavirus. On March 23, Brazile blocked public access to all county courthouses, placed delays on many criminal cases, and ordered the prioritization of bail hearings. While these types of emergency orders appropriately protect judges, attorneys, and court staff from this deadly virus, they may make the situation all the more dangerous for the thousands of Angelenos, mostly Black and Latinx, who remain trapped in jails and juvenile halls, awaiting court dates. The conditions inside Los Angeles County jails and juvenile halls are already appalling. In Men’s Central Jail, some people share a cell about six feet by six feet, and generally only leave the cell for one hour a day. They lack necessary hygiene products and adequate medical treatment. Under ordinary circumstances, the jail is unsafe; during this pandemic, it is a death sentence. The virus has entered the courts, and over the weekend, a person who is incarcerated in one of the jails tested positive for COVID-19; several individuals’ test results are pending. It is only a matter of time before the virus spreads, as it has in jails around the country. On March 24, Brazile issued a press release announcing that an agreed upon list of individuals held pretrial will be released from custody. However, this announcement lacked any information about the criteria for release, the number of people who will be released, or a long-term release strategy. There is still no information on whether people on this list have been released. Those who remain in custody, however, could remain locked up in these dangerous conditions for even longer than usual. As part of Brazile’s March 17 order, those booked into custody for felonies may now have to wait seven days before seeing a judge, instead of the usual 48 hours, and their trials can be extended by up to an additional 30 days. Faced with the possibility of an additional month in jail awaiting trial, and at extreme risk of contracting a deadly disease, most people will give up their trial right, or plead out, if it means getting out sooner. This coercive process is unfair, undermines the integrity of our courts, and can saddle people with wrongful convictions and lifelong consequences. Brazile has the power to right this ship and implement policies that protect everyone. California law allows judges to release adults charged with misdemeanors and all non-capital felony offenses without imposing money bail. The judiciary took the appropriate step and mandated $0 bail for most misdemeanors and certain categories of felonies. It is unclear whether these standards apply to individuals who were arrested and incarcerated before the COVID-19 crisis. It is urgent that people in custody pretrial are evaluated and quickly released, particularly those who are in custody simply because they cannot afford bail. If the judiciary does not act, thousands of lives will continue to be at risk. While courts are closed to the public, attorneys, judges, and court employees are still going to court. According to Court Watch Los Angeles, some courtrooms had 30 to 40 people present as recently as March 20, clearly violating social distancing recommendations. With potential plans to proceed by consolidating even more cases in fewer courtrooms in the county, this situation could be exacerbated. By overburdening courtrooms with more cases, it is certain that people in custody will remain there longer while waiting to see a judge or resolve their case. This is why Brazile must act immediately and order a release of a broad group of people: those who are not substantially likely to cause bodily harm to another person and those who are being held solely on probation/parole violations. In addition, judges should use their authority to release, without setting bail, those brought into court on their first appearances. Hearings for people out-of-custody should be postponed so that courts can prioritize arraignments, preliminary hearings, trials, and juvenile detention hearings for all individuals in custody and hold them within the normal statutory time limits. When hearings do occur, each courthouse should identify practices that allow for the social distancing necessary to keep everyone safe. Failure to do the above will severely endanger people trapped in jail during this pandemic, as well as the jail staff, their families and their communities. Judge Brazile must act now, before it’s too late. Alicia Virani is the Gilbert Foundation associate director of the Criminal Justice Program at UCLA School of Law and was previously a public defender in Orange County. Update: On Thursday, after this article was published, Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile issued an order indicating that Los Angeles County courts will extend preliminary hearings, trials, and arraignments well beyond what his March 17 order outlined: People in jail and charged with a felony may now have to wait up to 30 court days—the equivalent of six weeks—for their preliminary hearing and an additional 60 days for their trial.
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  • #JusticeForVerdant
    In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, colleges and universities nation-wide have been calling for the evacuation of their campuses. The students at NCA&T State University were asked to pack up and evacuate the campus with very short notice. In an attempt to comply with the request of the university, Verdant Julius and two friends, all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, were assisting each other in the packing of the dorm rooms. On March 18, 2020, while at McCain Residence Hall on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Julius and his friends were asked to show their student IDs to a campus security guard and local police officer. After presenting their IDs, proving they were currently enrolled, they were then asked to swipe into the residence hall as an added measure to prove that they belonged on campus. One of Verdant Julius’ friends, a young lady, was told to leave because she was not a resident of McCain Hall. Hearing that his friend who was there to assist him was being asked to leave, Verdant Julius asked the campus security guard and police officer for an explanation. The officer responded to this request by saying, “If you take one step closer I am going to have you arrested for obstruction of an investigation”. This was the first time the officer informed Verdant Julius and the other two students that an investigation was in progress. Verdant and the other students began to ask the officer questions in order to gain an understanding about what was going on, when the officer suddenly and violently attempted to place Verdant Julius under arrest. As shown in the video of the arrest, Verdant Julius posed no threat to the campus security guard or the police officer and was not resisting arrest. Verdant Julius calmly asked for the person recording to take his keys and phone. To which the officer replied, “If you resist, I am going to mase you”. No college student deserves this type of abuse and harassment from campus security guards or local police officers on their college campus -- especially during a global pandemic. The over-policing of Black students is an ongoing problem at many colleges and universities in the United States. It is outrageous and disappointing to witness this unnecessary use of force used on a student who was simply trying to go to his dorm room with friends and fellow students. Verdant Julius and the students of NCA&T deserve the rights and freedoms that should be afforded to all university students. They deserve to feel safe and protected on their campus. We strongly urge Chief Wilson to: - immediately drop charges against Verdant Julius - Issue an official statement addressing and correcting the actions of the officers - establish a police review committee to review police hires and complaints Find the video of the arrest here: http://bit.ly/verdantvideo (Petition updated at 9am on March 19, 2020 for continuity and expansion of background story as developments happened)
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  • COVID-19: Los Angeles Must Immediately Release People from the County Jails!
    We are not alone in recognizing this crisis of criminalization and incarceration here in Los Angeles and how COVID19 will exacerbate that crisis. Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the recommendations outlined in the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group’s historic and unprecedented report, “Care First, Jails Last: Health and Racial Justice Strategies for Safer Communities.” Shortly thereafter, Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas published a letter outlining his concerns about COVID19’s spreads to the LA jails and calling for a reduction in jail bookings, early release, plans for quarantine and treatment, concerted efforts to reduce virus transmission and a plan for expected staffing shortages. We are also not alone in calling for significant and timely steps towards decarceration. On Saturday, March 14, Judges from the Cleveland, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Court announced their intention to seek the release of hundreds of people incarcerated in their county jails. Like us, these judges recognize that jails pose threats to our larger community and the incarcerated people themselves. On Tuesday, March 17, the New York City Board of Corrections, the independent oversight Board for the city’s jail system, issued a call for incarcerated people at high risk to be immediately released and for the overall jail population to be rapidly and drastically reduced. Also on Tuesday, March 17, thirty one elected prosecutors from around the country, but not from Los Angeles, published a letter advocating that counties “implement concrete steps in the near-term to dramatically reduce the number of incarcerated individuals” to prevent the potentially “catastrophic” spread of COVID19. We also join epidemiologists in warning that it is not a matter of if COVID19 enters your facility -- but when. For these reasons, we demand that you, as correctional health care leaders, do your part. We ask that you: 1) Prepare a list of your incarcerated patients who are most medically vulnerable and who require immediate release. We demand that you prepare that list within one week, notify the public that the list has been made available to correctional authorities, the courts and city/state leaders, and advocate for their early release with linkages to housing and healthcare services. 2) Use the legal authority granted to you to declare COVDI19 a liable danger to those currently held in the county jails and advocate for their immediate release to safe and meaningful housing. 3) Identify, coordinate and provide the services incarcerated people need upon their release (e.g. HIV care for those who are HIV+, substance use treatment centers for those with substance use disorders, homes and shelters for those who are houseless, etc) to ensure their ongoing protection from this epidemic. The County should use the recently approved recommendations from the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group to build infrastructure that addresses and also outlives this emergency to achieve our shared goal of reducing the jail population.
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  • Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 by Decarcerating Mecklenburg
    Dear local leaders: As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, we – a coalition of concerned organizations, attorneys, and community members – urge you to undertake all possible measures to prevent the spread of infection in Mecklenburg County’s jails. An outbreak of COVID-19 in the jails would be swift and deadly, and it would overwhelm the county’s hospitals and health system. The next week is crucial to limiting COVID-19’s spread. Now is the time for decisive emergency measures to save lives. COVID-19 poses severe risks whenever people are in close physical proximity with others, regardless of whether an individual has shown symptoms of infection. People in jail are unable to distance themselves from others and take the preventative measures that are necessary to prevent infection and protect the population. Worse, jails are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks because the underlying health conditions that can cause infection or exacerbate harm are very prevalent among incarcerated people. This will make the spread of COVID-19 inside jails fast and lethal, threatening everyone incarcerated in a jail, along with their loved ones, jail staff, and the state’s public health infrastructure at large. The safest way to ensure that the jail does not become a vector for COVID-19’s spread is to cut the jail population and halt new admissions. This is particularly imperative for anyone who a judge has already approved for release pending payment of money bail; anyone detained under an ICE hold; and anyone detained for a Failure to Appear or parole/probation violations. Release is also crucial for those who are elderly or have medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable. In contrast to reducing jail populations, restrictive measures such as segregation and lockdowns will not contain infection. In a county jail, people are incarcerated for a relatively short period of time before returning to the outside community, and every day new people are booked into the facility if law enforcement continue making arrests. Jail staff necessarily come and go everyday as well, returning to their families and communities. This constant turnover will compromise any effort to contain COVID-19, especially since people may be infected and contagious but not show symptoms. Restrictive measures inside could also discourage incarcerated people from reporting symptoms or seeking care, which will multiply infection. Reducing the jail population is consistent with the county sheriff’s obligation to safely manage county jail populations and the guidance of correctional experts. Dr. Marc Stern, who served as Health Services Director for Washington State’s Department of Corrections, recently urged: “With a smaller population, prisons, jails, and detention centers can help diseases spread less quickly by allowing people to better maintain social distance.” Dr. Stern also explained that reducing the jail population will ease staffing burdens: “If staff cannot come to work because they are infected, a smaller population poses less of a security risk for remaining staff.” Jurisdictions across the country have already started taking the important public health measure of reducing their jail population. The Bail Project has worked to provide free bail assistance to people detained pretrial in the Mecklenburg County Jail. Since its tenure in Charlotte began in August 2019, the organization has posted bail for over 200 people, of which more than 90% then returned to court without any need for detention, even though their bail amount would otherwise have kept them incarcerated. We know from this experience that reducing the jail population to protect public health will be safe, lawful, and just. Every time the county introduces another person to the jail environment, there is a risk of worsening the spread of COVID-19 among the incarcerated population, jail staff, and the broader community. We urge you to undertake all possible avenues for limiting that peril and preventing deaths across the community. Signed, The ACLU of NC Global Missions of the A.M.E. Zion Church The Bail Project Beauty After the Bars Black Treatment Advocates Network (BTAN Charlotte) Project BOLT Charlotte Uprising Comunidad Colectiva Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office Poor No More Racial Justice Engagement Group of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte Southeast Asian Coalition Court Support Services Team TRU BLUE
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  • Support Parole and Compassionate Release for Dr. Mutulu Shakur
    Dr. Shakur is recognized as a leading member of the movement for human rights for African Americans. He has spent over three decades behind bars because of his political beliefs and the actions motivated by those beliefs. He is also recognized as a Doctor of Acupuncture who pioneered the use of acupuncture for drug addiction. Acupuncturists all over the United States and Canada are still utilizing his work to this day. Mutulu's convictions come out of a complex and turbulent moment in American history, when civil unrest fractured our country into pieces. They arise from his commitment to the social justice movement for Black liberation, originating in the 1960's. He was targeted and victimized by the FBI's now-infamous Counter- Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) as early as 1968. He was convicted of RICO conspiracy and connection to the 1981 Brinks Robbery, and the earlier prison escape of Assata Shakur. Dr. Shakur has taken full responsibility for his life and his actions. Dr. Shakur has received a diagnosis of life-threatening advanced bone marrow cancer. He had already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and glaucoma. In 2013, he suffered from a stroke that required several months for recovery. In 2019 he experienced increasing pain; after months of medical neglect, advanced bone marrow cancer was diagnosed. Now Mutulu is suffering from extensive painful bone lesions, caused by the growth of the bone marrow cancer in parts of his spine, ribs and pelvis. The cancer has also destroyed a large area of bone around his right 7th rib, replacing bone with cancer cells, creating a propensity to break. Dr. Shakur is 69 years old, and aging in prison after 34 years of incarceration. He needs treatment and recovery in humane conditions immediately. We fear for his survival and his life.
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  • Baltimore City Council: Say no to spying on your constituents!
    Baltimore is the latest city with plans to invest thousands of taxpayer dollars into a rebate program that will allow it to spy on its own residents. Just last week, councilman Eric Costello, introduced legislation that would give Baltimore residents up to $150 to install a private doorbell camera system, like Ring or Nest, in their homes. The catch? To receive the money, residents first have to sign up for the police department’s CitiWatch Community Partnership program. This will allow the police to identify and target all the homes that have those camera systems installed. In order to qualify, residents must also agree to point the camera into a public space for at least two years. The dangers of a program like this are too many to list. In major cities across the nation, the police have already used this kind of footage to carry out sting operations, make targeted arrests, and push legislators to enact “broken windows” policies to imprison countless poor people throughout the country. That’s why any council member who claims to care about their constituents will refuse to allow this legislation to move any further. We know mass surveillance and broken window policies don’t keep our communities safe. With no oversight for the use of this footage, Black Baltimore residents run the risk of winding up in a unregulated police database, or even arrested and prosecuted, due to the disproportionate use of this technology against our people. Police violence against Black people is at an all-time high and we cannot allow lawmakers to ignore how surveillance partnership programs with law enforcement so often result in potentially violent interactions with the police. The city should not be paying residents to spy on each other, they should be investing that money in resources that actually keep people safe: things like good schools, quality mental health care institutions, trauma centers, and employment opportunities. It’s time for Baltimore City Council to protect their constituents, not put them in harm’s way. Sign to make your voice heard today. Tell Baltimore City Council to say no to mass surveillance!
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  • End Money Bail and Pretrial Incarceration in Philadelphia Now!
    The hundreds of people bailed out by our community bail funds and community organizations who have returned to their homes and families show that when you bail people out and bring people home, even if they are charged with an act of violence, the vast majority of them aren't re-arrested and come back to court, get to keep working and raising their families, and contribute to their community and our economy. Far too many people are held in our jails out of fear accused people won't return to court or will cause harm - but our local numbers and national statistics show otherwise. We won't be able to close more jails, save millions more dollars, and invest our precious tax dollars in community resources rather than months or years of incarceration unless we stop setting bails on our neighbors in the poorest big city in America.
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  • Josh Shapiro: Stop Condemning Rehabilitated People to Die in Prison at The Board of Pardons
    Attorney General Josh Shapiro is one of five members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and is the main road block to freedom for rehabilitated people who are trying to come home after decades of incarceration. AG Josh Shapiro has cast himself as a forward-thinking Attorney General who supports innovative approaches to criminal justice and is part of the #resistance to the Trump administration. The Board of Pardons plays a crucial role in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system--allowing people serving life and other long term sentences to be released after they’ve been rehabilitated. Sadly, AG Shapiro has repeatedly blocked the Board from fulfilling this function by being the most frequent ‘no’ vote against rehabilitated people who present no risk to society. Josh Shapiro has voted against people whose prison wardens came to testify for them. He has voted against people who had the support of the victims family. He has voted against people with serious health conditions and little time left to live. Many of the people who Josh Shapiro has voted against are elderly prisoners who languish in prisons at a tremendous cost to society. Many are people who have turned their lives around after many years of incarceration and take part in productive and positive efforts from behind prison walls. Some are members of faith communities. All of them are someone’s child, friend, parent, or beloved family member. AG Josh Shapiro cannot claim the mantle of a forward thinking attorney general and be the main road block to freedom at the Board of Pardons. We call on Mr Shapiro to keep the Board of Pardons functioning as it was designed to by voting in favor of the reformed citizens that the Chair and other members of the Board recognize as worthy of mercy and release. If the Chair of the Board of Pardons, Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, is voting in favor of someone we see no reason why AG Shapiro should be the one to deny them. We call on Josh Shapiro to stop upholding the practice of mass incarceration and support the release of those who have paid their debt to society.
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  • #FreeBlackMamas - Justice for DV Survivor Tondalao Hall
    Tondalao Hall is a domestic violence survivor sentenced to 30 years behind bars under a "failure to protect" law. Tondalao was punished for not leaving her abuser quickly enough, before he could inflict physical abuse on their children. The abuser, Robert Braxton, was released back to the streets the day he was sentenced for child abuse, with only 8 years of probation to serve. He admitted to breaking the ribs, toe, and femurs of the two youngest children. Tondalao, the adult victim of his abuse and mother of his children, is now serving her 15th year behind bars. While we haven’t had much to celebrate in the quest for Tondalao’s freedom, this time is slightly different than others. Here’s how: 1. The Pardon and Parole board voted UNANIMOUSLY in a 5-0 vote to move her case to the next round. 2. Four out of five board members were appointed within the past year. 3. After years of organizing, District Attorney David Prater finally wrote a letter of “support" calling for Tondalao’s release. Oklahoma has the highest rate per capita of incarcerated women than any other place in the word. Hall is 1 of 28 women sentenced across 11 states under “Failure to Protect” laws who are serving more time than the abuser himself. Hall’s appeal for justice could have broader implications for the lives of women across experiences. ​Courts must not use Failure to Protect laws to further victimize survivors of domestic violence by scapegoating them for their batterers’ crimes. Failure to Protect laws must not hold domestic violence victims with children to an impossible standard of choosing between risking their lives (and their children's’ lives) and risking their freedom. After 13 years behind bars, Tondalao has served enough time for a crime she didn't commit. We must do better to protect and #FreeBlackMamas.
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  • Police Accountability Monitoring Program & Enforcement Reform (PAMPER)
    COPWATCH AMERICA INCORPORATED HAS A PRIMARY GOAL TO MINIMIZE & ELIMINATE UNJUSTIFIED DEATHS DUE TO ILLEGAL ACTIONS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT IN AMERICA AGAINST CIVILIANS. COPWATCH AMERICA INCORPORATED USES UNITED STATES/STATE LAWS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, CIVILIAN COMPLIANT REVIEW COMMITTEES, POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY MONITORING PROGRAMS, AND OTHER FORMS OF RESOURCES & ACTIONS TO ESTABLISH TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY IN EACH AND EVERY LAW ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT/AGENCY IN AMERICA.
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  • Tell Congress to Legalize Medical Marijuana
    Sign the petition: urge Congress to legalize medical marijuana Voters across America have agreed: making medical marijuana available is a compassionate choice for people suffering terrible illnesses and painful disabilities. While Americans in 34 states have access to this treatment option, millions or other Americans do not. Would-be patients are suffering and cannot make medical decisions for themselves. It puts the federal government between patients and their doctors. Sign the petition: urge Congress to follow the bipartisan majority of America and legalize medical marijuana.
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