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To: Judge Idee Fox, First Judicial District Courts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, First Judicial District Courts
Philly Courts and Mayor Kenney: Act Now to Mass Release People from Jail as Coronavirus Spreads
Dear Judge Fox, and Judges Tucker and Dugan,
We are calling on you to act now to save thousands of lives. Over 4,000 people are currently trapped in Philadelphia jails with the coronavirus. Official reports have shown COVID-19 cases are rapidly increasing inside the buildings, leading to an infection rate that’s five times higher than the rest of the city, and has surpassed the rates in New York City, Lombardy, Italy, and Wuhan, China.
Incarcerated people have little to no recourse, in the tightly-packed and unhygienic jails, they are unable to social distance, and from years of reports (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/03/04/the-jail-health-care-crisis) we know that medical attention is often denied or inadequate behind bars in the United States.
This is a terrifying situation, especially for those inside. In a phone call with a mother-of-four and grandmother-of-five who is incarcerated at Riverside Correctional Facility, she broke down, saying “I don’t want to die in here.”
Her voice was just one of the many who are calling for help in this dire situation. Please listen to her words here: http://tinyurl.com/RCFCall1 and the ones of another incarcerated Philadelphian here: http://tinyurl.com/RCFCall2
These people trapped inside of Philly jails do not deserve a death sentence, which is what COVID-19 is for Black, brown, and poor people in our jails.
We call on you to act immediately to release as many people as possible from our city jails before it is too late. We look at cities, Cleveland and Pittsburgh (https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/allegheny-county-jail-has-been-releasing-inmates-because-of-covid-19-and-why-that-matters/Content?oid=17045388) for examples in how this can be quickly and safely done. And we look at New York City (https://www.newsweek.com/rikers-island-covid-19-new-york-city-1496872) and Cook County as a tragic warning of what can happen when we delay.
Judge Dugan, Judge Tucker and Judge Fox: here is what you have the power to do right now to save lives:
Immediately implement a process to allow mass release of people from the city’s jails and juvenile detention centers, including:
- Granting early release for all individuals serving a county sentence
- Lifting all detainers and bench warrants
- Ending the use of cash bail to detain people
-Freeing all detained youth, whether awaiting trial, a violation of probation hearing, or a transfer to a placement
- Implementing immediate review process for all people currently in detention, including youth
- Prioritizing vulnerable people for release (including the elderly and those with critical medical needs and health concerns)
Mayor Kenney: here is how you can take action to protect these Philadelphians:
- Issue an Executive Order releasing people held in detention during this public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
- Ensure access to free phone calls, stamps, face masks, disinfectant, and soap for all people incarcerated in Philadelphia
Why is this important?
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.