With the coronavirus spreading quickly across the country, Alabamians for Fair Justice — a broad coalition of advocates supporting reform in Alabama’s criminal justice system — is demanding that state officials ensure the health and safety of people in jails and prisons, and release those people most at risk of suffering serious complications or death from contracting coronavirus (COVID-19).
The coalition sent a letter to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn calling on him to develop evidence-based protocols and proactively plan the prevention and management of a COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the letter, “imprisoned and detained people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. People incarcerated in jails and prisons are housed in close quarters and are often in poor health.” Coupled with the fact state facilities have been deemed overcrowded, incarcerated persons are at an increased risk during a viral outbreak. “Without the active engagement of those who administer these facilities, they have little ability to learn about ongoing public health crises or to take necessary preventative measures if they do manage to learn of them.”
The coalition asks the state to:
- Educate both staff and the people detained in local, state, and federal facilities on the dangers of the virus and how to avoid contracting it;
- Keep infected staff out of facilities and isolate individuals who have tested positive; avoid lockdowns;
- Regularly screen and test all individuals in the facility and those who work there; ensure free and accessible phone communication with family members and confidential access to legal counsel;
- Release elderly and medically fragile people before they contract the disease; release people in pretrial detention who are charged with nonviolent offenses;
- Limit future pretrial detention by issuing citations rather than arresting and booking people into jail;
- And approve early release of people who are within six months of their end of sentence date.
A full list of Alabamians for Fair Justice coalition members may be viewed here.