Nationwide Demands Call to Release Incarcerated Parents and Individuals due to COVID-19

 

Image: We Got us Now Instagram Account

With the emergence of COVID-19, Justice Strategies would like to acknowledge and support children and family members who have been navigating parental incarceration in this difficult time. We realize at this moment many families will be impacted even more intensely by the barriers in communication and the already negligent health care services in our U.S. carceral facilities. From testimonies of children of incarcerated parents, we know children already worry about their parents, especially when prison policies prevent parents from making usual phone or video calls, an experience relayed by 10-year-old D.G. in this interview. To support children of the incarcerated in this moment means helping their parents release to our community and helping them get the health care and housing they deserve.

A recent article, “Here's What Happened To Two Prisoners When A Guard Got The Coronavirus” in collaboration with the Marshall Project and written by currently incarcerated people in Washington state acknowledges the reality that safety in prisons may look like lockdowns and increased barriers to communication. This is especially true when loved ones must rely on expensive technology and as prisons may limit phone use entirely to keep people “safe”. Christopher Blackwell relays the realities:

There is pretty much only one way for quarantined prisoners to communicate with the outside world: JPay, the prison email system. But given that many people cannot afford the $150 it costs for a JPay tablet, there are many who have no way of communicating with their loved ones during lockdown…Further, even if you have a tablet, many of our outside loved ones who are at most risk for COVID-19, the elderly, may not have access to or know how to use the complicated JPay email system. When I talked on the phone with my 76-year-old grandma, who has a severe heart condition and no internet, she was full of worry. I tried to explain the situation in here and had to tell her that soon, a time may come when I will have no access, or very limited access, to the phones. I’m one of her only sources of emotional support as she awaits her heart surgery.

We Got us Now, an organization led by children of incarcerated parents, has taken action in demanding protection of their parents behind bars. They are demanding the following:

 

Demand #1 "Immediate Clemency for Elder and Sickly Parents in Prison."

Demand #2 "Free Communications"

Demand #3 "Notification System" 

Demand #4 "Safe and Sanitary Measures."

 

Acknowledging the already poor sanitation conditions of prisons and prison health care systems, public health asks across the country on the local, state and federal levels include many of the following requests:

Jails/Prisons

  • Immediately suspend arrests and booking.
  • Medically fragile adults (mentally ill, aged, disabled, etc) should not be in detention.
  • Immediately release anyone who does not pose a physical risk to the community.
  • Immediate release of anyone within 6 months of ending their sentence.
  • Cancel parole and pre-trial hearings
  • Commit to getting houseless people homes - and make them be for long-term, not temporary fixes.

Immigration Enforcement

  • Halt migrant prosecutions (unlawful entry and reentry cases)
  • Work with CBP, ICE, and U.S. Marshals to end arrests and criminal referrals;
  • Decline all new criminal prosecutions for unauthorized entry (8 USC 1325) and unauthorized reentry (8 USC 1326);
  • Immediately halt “Operation Streamline” magistrate courts at the southern border; 
  • Drop all charges for unauthorized entry (8 USC 1325) and unauthorized reentry (8 USC 1326) and prioritize release of those currently being held on such charges; and
  • Agree to re-sentence people held in BOP or private prisons on entry or reentry offenses.

Other highlights across the country:

California: The Justice Collaborative has created this webpage with resources, calls to action across the nation and a Map of COVID-19 Emergency Action Plan Policy shifts.

Jail Response in SF: San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin directed his prosecutors not to oppose motions to release pretrial detainees facing misdemeanor charges or drug-related felony charges if the person is deemed to pose no threat to public safety. Boudin also directed his staff to “strongly consider” credit for time served in plea deals so that more people can be released.” 

Miami: Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced a plan to release misdemeanor and nonviolent inmates from the county jail system during the COVID-19 outbreak. Local activist group The Dream Defenders have further asks that can be found here.

Federal Immigration: A recent Guardian article reported that in response to advocates and lawmakers calling for a halt in Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the arrest and detention of individuals, ICE announced it will delay arresting immigrants who are not “public safety threats” and roll back on detaining those who are outside of mandatory detention guidelines set by Congress.

An organizational sign-on letter is circling by Just Futures Law along with Grassroots Leadership, Mijente, the Bail Project, and Justice Strategies calling on Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorneys to halt migrant prosecutions (unlawful entry and reentry cases) in light of the coronavirus pandemic. [FORM LINK HERE for organizational sign-ons]. On March 19, the Marshall Project reported on the first ICE employee to have tested positive for COVID-19.

Juvenile Facilities

"I want to see my child." Marshall Project

Updated List of Activities and Resources for families.

Riley Hewko, Esq.

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