Humanity Not Cages: Demand a Just and Humane Response to COVID-19

Join us as we call on both public and private actors within the criminal legal system to take the appropriate steps to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 within state prisons, local jails, and detention centers and in the communities in which they are located across the country.

These lawmakers and decision-makers have the power to ensure that a timely and humane response can alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated people.

27,848
of 30,000 signatures
across 15 local campaigns
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Campaigns (15)

  • Washington
    COVID-19 is a death sentence for the people inside D.C. Jail & Halfway Houses #DecarcerateDC NOW
    From the moment the Mayor declared a public health emergency, defense lawyers have filed hundreds of motions in D.C. Superior Court demanding the release of their clients. Despite the flood of motions, D.C. Superior Court judges continue to operate as if business is usual. Rather than acknowledge the life or death circumstances at the D.C. Jail, judges are callously denying bond review motions and continuing to detain countless individuals. While the judges quickly shut down courtrooms to protect their own health and well-being, they have refused to show this same level of concern to the people whose lives hang in the balance inside of the D.C. Jail. With each ruling, the D.C. Superior Court judges are reinforcing a clear reality that Black and Brown people have long known: courthouses are a place where the lives of some are valued and the lives of others are not. But it is not only judges whose inaction risks the lives of everyone at the D.C. Jail. Attorney General Karl Racine has also made clear where he stands on the issue. Despite his self-serving, political rhetoric of being a “progressive” prosecutor, Racine’s actions show that he is nothing more than a politician who says one thing but does another. When the global health pandemic first started to impact the United States, Attorney General Racine authored an op-ed and signed onto a public letter creating the guise that he actually values the lives of incarcerated people. He wrote, “[Prosecutors] should use their discretionary authority to decrease the number of people in jails and prisons by immediately limiting the number of people prosecuted and unnecessarily detained pre-trial.” He urged all jails to “[p]rovide free soap and CDC-recommended hand sanitizer, increased medical care, comprehensive sanitation and cleaning of facilities and other safety measures.” He went on to say that jails should “[use] individual quarantines . . .rather than harmful practices like solitary confinement or generalized lock downs.” It is now clear that at the time he wrote these words, he never imagined he would one day be held accountable to ensure that these conditions were in place in his own backyard. On March 30, 2020, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) and the American Civil Liberties Union for the District of Columbia (ACLU) filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. As evidenced by declarations attached to the complaint, the men and women at the D.C. Jail are being held captive in conditions that amount to torture. Despite the spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus, the DOC is not providing proper medical care and ignoring the desperate cries for help from the sick. The DOC has locked everyone in their cells, often with two people in the same cell, for 23 ½ hours a day. As if this was not horrific enough, the DOC has refused to provide hand sanitizer, basic cleaning products, or even adequate amounts of soap, so people can try their best to protect themselves from a virus that may kill them. Conditions in the jail are so brutal that the union representing the correctional officers who work there are supporting the ACLU’s lawsuit against their own employer, the DOC. According to the union’s attorney, “The DOC management has created an unconscionable public health crisis, and almost certainly guaranteed and accelerated the rampant spread of COVID-19 within the DOC facilities and the communities in which the staff live.” The people trapped at the D.C. Jail are watching and waiting helplessly for the day when their own bodies are ravaged by its symptoms. As the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Racine’s office represents the Department of Corrections in this suit. Right now, Racine has the opportunity to rise to the challenge and ensure that the DOC complies with his own public proclamations. Instead, Racine is exposing himself as an opportunistic and hypocritical politician. The cowardice of D.C. Superior Court judges and the hypocrisy of Attorney General Karl Racine are no longer just ugly character flaws, they are obstacles endangering the lives of everyone held at the D.C. Jail. We demand that the people of the D.C. Jail be freed. We will not forgive and history will not forget.
    15,171 of 20,000 Signatures
    Created by April Goggans, Black Lives Matter DC
  • Michigan Covid-19 Statewide Immediate Release of Vulnerable incarcerated People
    Covid-19 presents a threat to human life. We believe all human life is valuable, and are ensuring that those most at risk, like incarcerated individuals, are being granted the relief necessary to protect themselves and their families. The particularly vulnerable incarcerated community members and those currently being impacted by the system need support in this moment and not continued trauma. Action is crucially important now to avoid public health mishaps like the scabies outbreak at Huron Valley Prison in 2019. Now more than ever, we need transformative criminal justice action to limit the damage that the system can do during the pandemic outbreak.
    2,107 of 3,000 Signatures
    Created by Tim Christensen
  • Demand that Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx Decarcerate to Respond to COVID-19
    As of April 14, 2020, more than 300 people incarcerated in CCJ have tested positive for COVID-19 and 3 people have lost their lives. The rate of infection has climbed as high as 62 out of every 1,000 people incarcerated in the jail, and there are no doubt many more people who have COVID-19 but who have not been tested. Cook County Jail has been identified by the New York Times as the “top hot spot” in the nation’s pandemic. People incarcerated in jail are one of the populations most vulnerable to coronavirus and COVID-19, and their protection warrants special emergency action. Jails and prisons are known to quickly spread contagious diseases. Incarcerated people have an inherently limited ability to fight the spread of infectious disease since they are confined in close quarters and unable to avoid contact with people who may have been exposed. Cook County Jail is a death trap, and leaving people incarcerated there during this pandemic will result in the needless illness, suffering, and deaths of people in the jail’s custody, staff working inside the jail, and others in the community as our shared health care system becomes overwhelmed. As a candidate who campaigned on a progressive platform, it is State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx’s responsibility to take bold action now. If State’s Attorney Foxx continues the present course, more people will inevitably and unnecessarily lose their lives.
    1,649 of 2,000 Signatures
    Created by Matthew McLoughlin Picture
  • Los Angeles
    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.
    1,416 of 2,000 Signatures
    Created by Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson
  • Philadelphia
    Philly Courts and Mayor Kenney: Act Now to Mass Release People from Jail as Coronavirus Spreads
    Dozens of incarcerated people and prison workers are infected with coronavirus. Yet the Philadelphia courts are forcing the public defenders, private defense attorneys, and the district attorney to approve individual petitions to be seen by judges. That's meant that our jails have only decarcerated by 8-10%, while other cities have let more than half of their incarcerated population go.
    1,335 of 2,000 Signatures
    Created by The Media Mobilizing Project
  • Decarcerate Prince George’s County Jail NOW!
    Prince George’s County jail is a hotbed of human rights abuses in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Credible reports from whistleblowers inside of the Prince George’s County jail detail how correctional officers and jail officials have ignored early cases of COVID-19 contributing to community spread, penalized those who were infected, failed to provide adequate medical care, and resorted to illegally detaining people who have been bonded out but are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19. When not ignored entirely, symptomatic detainees are given nothing but Tylenol and sent back and forth between their housing units and the medical unit, exposing numerous others along their route. In certain housing units, detainees are punished or threatened with punishment by trying to use their clothing and linens to fashion personal protective equipment they are otherwise denied. For those who do test positive for Coronavirus, they are locked in an isolation cell where blood, feces, and mucus covers the walls. In the isolation cell, they are denied basic hygiene supplies, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, for days. They are not allowed to shower for at least two weeks. During that time, they are forced to wear the same clothing for days, sometimes even a week or more, and often the same clothing in which they sweated through their fevers. They are denied access to telephones and any ability to communicate with the outside world. Even within the medical unit, any medical conditions that can’t be addressed through routine medication are ignored. They are trapped in cages, treated like animals, rather than the human beings they are. COVID-19 cases in New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC show that jails become ground-zero for pandemics because they are ill-equipped to allow social distancing, provide PPE, and provide adequate sterilization. The best way to contain the virus is to release as many people as possible from detention, limit the number of arrests in order to stem the flow of people in and out the jails and provide critical medical care for those who remain incarcerated during the pandemic.
    1,060 of 2,000 Signatures
    Created by Qiana Johnson, Life After Release Picture
  • 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.
    1,046 of 2,000 Signatures
    Created by Eunisses Hernandez
  • California's COVID-19 Budget Must Support Decarceration!
    As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across California, people caged inside prisons and jails remain at the mercy of our elected officials. Last week, the California Senate formed the Budget Subcommittee on COVID-19 to address the budget needs of this crisis and will be holding their first hearing this Thursday April 16th at 2pm. The budget that California creates over the next few weeks will determine who lives and who dies. In Los Angeles alone there have been 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the jail population, 33 cases among staff, and one custody staff on life support. With over 700 prisoners quarantined in Los Angeles and many remaining to be tested, incarcerated people and their families fear that there are many more cases yet to be reported. Los Angeles, along with many counties across the state, are taking steps to reduce the jail population in order to slow down the continued spread of the virus. The jail population in LA is at the lowest levels since 1990 - dropping from over 17,000 prisoners to 12,800, largely due to the continued advocacy of groups like JusticeLA. Now is the time for the State to do its part and help fund jail and prison decarceration efforts by providing funds for: -- emergency housing for houseless people, -- transitional housing for people being released from jails and prisons, -- permanent housing for houseless people and people being released from jails and prisons, -- community-based treatment for people with mental health, behavioral health and biomedical needs transitioning out of incarceration, -- pretrial and post release services, -- post-conviction review and resentencing, -- alternatives to incarceration to support the release of additional people from jails and prisons, and -- free phone calls for families reaching their loved ones behind bars.
    892 of 1,000 Signatures
    Created by Dignity and Power Now
  • Charlotte
    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
    870 of 1,000 Signatures
    Created by Decarcerate Mecklenburg
  • COVID-19 is A Threat to Our Youth - Tell Maryland to #BringOurKidsHome
    Maryland incarcerates hundreds of children across seven youth jails centers and six state-run youth prisons. Like adult jails and prisons, juvenile facilities are inherently high-risk environments where the disease can spread quickly. Children are housed closely together in units or dormitory-style housing, precisely the kind of conditions that have led to the closure of universities all over the country. Even in well-run facilities, the social distancing recommended by the CDC is simply impossible. In such a setting, most of what we can do to protect against the spread of the virus is detrimental to children’s well-being. DJS stopped allowing visitors weeks ago, meaning lawyers can’t visit their clients and families can’t visit their children. School and other programming is cancelled. The use of solitary confinement, which is deeply traumatizing for a child and yet, DJS is already using increased isolation in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. All of these factors not only put a child’s emotional health at risk, they also jeopardize their long-term rehabilitation. Research by health care experts shows that incarcerated populations are most at-risk during a public health crisis. COVID-19 spread quickly in enclosed spaces such as cruise ships and nursing homes and it will spread just as quickly in detention centers, prisons, and jails. Contagious viruses such as COVID-19 spread much faster in detention centers and prisons as incarcerated youth are in close quarters and sometimes in unsanitary conditions. Behind bars, youth are not able to participate in proactive measures to keep themselves safe, such as social distancing, frequently washing hands, or staying in sanitized spaces. Infection control is a challenge in these situations as incarcerated youth are often in large congregate and communal settings. Even if youth are in individual cells, ventilation is often inadequate. Further, youth jails and prisons are unlikely equipped to meet the medical needs of youth if a COVID-19 outbreak inside juvenile detention or correctional facility should occur. Youth will not have many options to stay away from other youth if they become ill and there are limited infirmary beds. If staff become ill, it will be difficult to provide care and support to youth and if lockdowns are utilized, it will only intensify virus infection rates. The J.S. Weese Carter Center was already forced to close when a vendor could no longer service the facility. To stave off a public health emergency in our juvenile jails and prisons, we must immediately and dramatically reduce the number of children who are incarcerated. For those who remain in custody, we must do all we can to protect their health, safety, and constitutional rights. To that end, we call on state and local officials to take swift action. To protect our young people, those who work in these facilities, and the broader community, we must immediately reduce the number of young people in custody as quickly as possible. We are all feeling fear and uncertainty about the future. Imagine how that terror is magnified for families separated from their children by prison bars. Our youth are the future of our nation and, recognizing that the majority of young people in detention and correctional facilities across Maryland are removed from their communities for non-violent charges and pose no threat to community safety, it is unacceptable to allow children to be separated from their families during this global crisis. No one is sure when this crisis will end. But we know that most kids grow out of delinquent behavior without any system involvement. It's time for Maryland to give young people a chance and #BringOurKidsHome.
    841 of 1,000 Signatures
    Created by Jenny Egan