Life-saving measures to protect Louisiana Prisoners from COVID-19

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WHEN YOU SIGN THIS PETITION THE FOLLOWING LETTER WILL BE SENT TO GOVERNOR EDWARDS, ON YOUR BEHALF .

Dear Governor John Bel Edwards;

I am calling on you to act immediately to protect the lives of the people impacted by prisons in Louisiana. The spread of COVID-19 is a national emergency that threatens thousands of lives across our country. According to the latest estimates, the death toll from this virus could range anywhere from 200,000 to more than one million people in the United States alone. As you are well aware, Louisiana has the fastest growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the world. Louisiana also once again has the nation’s highest imprisonment rate. While everyone is at risk, we have a moral obligation to ensure that our most vulnerable—the elderly, the sick, those without medical care, and those unable to protect themselves from the virus—get the help they need. We have a further obligation to our community to keep the people whose job it is to work in jails and prisons, and their communities, safe.


On Friday, March 27, 2020, United States Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to reduce the federal prison population by increasing the use of home confinement among older inmates with underlying conditions.


Also on Friday, an inmate at Lee Prison in Georgia died from COVID-19, after being transported to a local hospital. Currently, 4 staff members and 5 other inmates at Lee Prison have tested positive for COVID-19.


In New York City, as of Friday, their Department of Corrections had recorded 103 positive cases of COVID-19 among its inmate population, and 80 positive cases among its correction officers and other employees.


The below decarceral guidelines are designed to prevent social spreading and the deaths of vulnerable people.


Social Spreading
In order to prevent the rapid growth of COVID-19 from overburdening our already burdened health-care system and claiming lives, both those in secure facilities and the people who work in them, it is the responsibility of decision makers at every level to prevent and contain the spread of the virus by taking action to promote the most effective strategy in abating the pandemic: social distancing in order to slow “community spread.”


The Particular Issue of Prison “Churn”
Jails and Prisons combine the worst aspects of a cruise ship and a large public gathering and, thus, can be the perfect breeding ground for the spread of COVID-19. People are constantly booked into and out of jail and prison facilities and each night guards, vendors, and other jail staff are going home while others are coming in- which results in a massive turnover.
Further, enclosed structures like prisons can cause COVID-19 to spread like wildfire and introducing just one person with it can lead to it impacting not just everyone inside the jail or prison but anyone leaving the facility—whether a person who is released or staff returning back to their homes— who then interacts with their communities.


Preventive Measures Cannot Be Taken in Prisons
Experts recommend that to protect the people most vulnerable from death or serious illness from COVID-19 that they be appropriately separated through social distancing. Yet separating sick people from well people to prevent the disease from spreading can be nearly impossible in prison due to logistical considerations.


I AM WRITING TO URGE YOU TO ENACT THE FOLLOWING DECARCERAL GUIDELINES:
● Reduce the prison population by prioritizing the immediate release of the elderly and medically vulnerable.


● Reduce the prison population by agreeing to the early release of anyone within 18 months of their release date. (This population is already scheduled for release and delaying such release would make it more likely that they will contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the general population.)


● Reduce the prison population by urging a hold to all new state prison sentences if delaying the sentence would not pose an unreasonable risk of safety to a specific person or persons.


● Reduce the prison and jail populations by releasing all people held on probation and parole technical violation detainers or sentences.


Immediately halt the DOC plan to house inmates who test positive for the coronavirus, including those from all over the state who have not been convicted of crimes, at Angola State Penitentiary and Allen Correctional. (This plan involves housing individuals in Camp J, which was closed in 2018 due to inhumane conditions, and puts a massive population of incarcerated people, including many who are elderly or medically vulnerable, prison staff, and their communities at dire risk of exposure and infection. Additionally, transferring pretrial inmates from local jails to state prisons could make it more difficult for them to get out on bond.)


● Make public and transparent a policy, vetted by public health officials, for handling COVID-19 within each facility.


I know how seriously you take your duty to protect the lives of people living and working in our prisons and the surrounding communities. The health, well-being and indeed the lives of these people are in your hands. I urge you to take immediate and decisive action now to save lives. I will support you in taking the bold, but necessary, action now to protect the health of people in our community, including the most vulnerable.


Sincerely,
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