COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration / FJP Advocacy and Releases

As the COVID-19 public health crisis rapidly evolves, FJP is engaged in ongoing efforts to protect vulnerable individuals in correctional and detention facilities across the country and to advocate for measures that keep all members of our community safe and healthy. For additional resources that track key trends, innovations and best practices to fight the pandemic within our criminal justice system, visit our COVID-19 Crisis and Solutions page. To receive updates on FJP’s work, sign up here.

FJP Advocacy

Thirty-five DAs Issue Open Letter to Governors Calling for Immediate Action to Address COVID-19 in Prisons

Read the open letter signed by 35 DAs from across the US to our nation’s governors demanding action to immediately decarcerate prisons. In the letter, these leaders call for governors to use all the tools at their disposal to halt the rising tide of the coronavirus outbreak in prisons, including ordering the immediate release of vulnerable individuals and those near the end of their sentence, providing support for reentry, and improving conditions within prisons. Read the letter and the release.

“Being confined in a prison or jail should not be a death sentence. Yet, in the context of COVID-19 that is exactly what it has become for far too many…As states and localities explore ways to safely reopen, Governors and state correctional leaders must act now to prevent our prisons from exploding as reservoirs and accelerants of mass infection and further shattering efforts to flatten the curve.”

Criminal Justice Leaders Call for Protection of Immigrants in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

Ten current and former elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders from across California filed an amicus letter brief with the California Supreme Court in support of a requested court-ordered moratorium on transfer of individuals from local and state custody to overcrowded federal immigration facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter argues that the dangerous conditions of confinement in the five immigration detention centers in California put detained individuals, staff at these facilities and the broader community at risk of contracting the deadly COVID-19 virus. Amici further argue that continued transfers only serve to erode trust between law enforcement, prosecutors, and the communities they work to protect, thereby hindering the ability to keep communities safe. For more read the release and letter.

“As a prosecutor, my job is to promote the health and safety of all members of my community, and in the midst of a deadly pandemic, our number one focus must be on saving lives.”
– District Attorney Chesa Boudin, San Francisco, CA 

Texas DAs and National Experts Challenge Governor Greg Abbott’s Restrictions on Release of Individuals Held Pretrial

As officials started responding to the threat of COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons and jails, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order restricting judges’ ability to release from jail individuals held pretrial and presumed innocent. Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez and Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton, along with national criminal justice organizations Pretrial Justice Institute, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and Fair and Just Prosecution, filed an amicus brief challenging this order, stressing its direct threat to Texans’ public health and safety as COVID-19 spreads rapidly and fatally through jails and prisons across the nation. For more, read the release and the full brief.

“As this pandemic began to take shape in mid-March, Texas officials swiftly took action to limit the risk of coronavirus infections in our jails and save lives. These are the exact steps that are needed in this time of crisis.”

Leaders from Prosecution, Corrections and Law Enforcement Join Efforts to Release Incarcerated Youth

Across the country, youth detention and correctional centers stand vulnerable to catastrophic outbreaks of COVID-19 that put at risk the lives of the youth living in these facilities, the staff that work in them, and the broader community. Recognizing this grave threat, and guided by one of our core principles – treating kids like kids – FJP joined organizations representing corrections and law enforcement leaders in an amicus brief supporting a petition by Maryland’s public defender to immediately and drastically reduce the population in youth detention and correctional facilities. For more, read the release and the full brief.

“Every day we choose not to act, we put young people’s lives at risk.”

FJP Statements and Releases

Fair and Just Prosecution Statement on Governor Newsom’s Order Releasing 8,000 in California Prisons

In this statement, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky praised California Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to release 8,000 individuals from state prisons, while also calling for more rapid and comprehensive decarceration and urging governors in other states to follow suit.

“All governors can learn from Governor Newsom’s leadership – and also from the cost of the state’s delay – and take dramatic action before their own states suffer similar or higher death tolls.”

Nearly 60 Criminal Justice Leaders Call for Release of Medically Vulnerable Individuals from Elkton Federal Correctional Institution

The obligation to keep community members safe does not end at the prison gates. That’s why 59 criminal justice leaders – including 37 current elected prosecutors and 11 current and former police chiefs and sheriffs – filed an amicus curiae brief with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the release or transfer of individuals currently incarcerated at Elkton Federal Correctional Institution (FCI Elkton), a low-level security federal prison in Ohio that has become a COVID-19 hotspot. The brief argues that an immediate and dramatic reduction of the incarcerated population at FCI Elkton is urgently needed to limit the deadly spread of COVID-19 behind bars, among facility staff, and through the broader community. Amici argue that as this serious virus has spread through custodial facilities, incarceration risks becoming a de facto death sentence, particularly for elderly and medically vulnerable populations behind bars. For more, read the release and brief.

“[P]ublic safety is not just a matter of stopping crime, it is also about saving lives, and amid this pandemic, public safety depends on smart public health choices.”
– Washtenaw County, MI Sheriff Jerry Clayton

Elected Prosecutors Call for Immediate Reduction of Incarceration and Detention to Address the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Those in Custody

Thirty-five prosecutors joined in a statement calling on prosecutors, corrections leaders, and the federal government to immediately reduce the number of incarcerated and detained individuals in an effort to address the threat of disastrous COVID-19 outbreaks among these vulnerable populations. Prisons, jails, and detention facilities are severely overcrowded, forcing people into close quarters without access to proper hygiene or adequate medical care. An outbreak of COVID-19 in these facilities would potentially be catastrophic. That’s why elected prosecutors joined in this commitment to immediately reduce incarceration and detention, work with public health and other leaders to mitigate the unchecked spread of COVID-19 in facilities and uphold the rights and needs of those in custody, and reform immigration detention policies. For more, read the release and full statement.

“We, as elected prosecutors, have an obligation to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or country of origin. Those obligations extend behind prison walls. And they require elected prosecutors to step up in this time of growing public health concerns to address the needs and rights of individuals in these facilities.”

Over 400 Former U.S. Attorneys, DOJ Leaders and Attorneys, and Judges Urge President Trump to Release Vulnerable Individuals from Federal Custody to Avoid Deadly Outbreak of COVID-19

In a letter from 419 former DOJ leaders, attorneys, and federal judges, including 36 former U.S. Attorneys, these criminal justice leaders urge President Trump to take rapid action to release medically at risk individuals from federal custody to protect them and our communities from the catastrophic spread of COVID-19 in federal facilities. The letter calls on President Trump to use his executive power to commute sentences for vulnerable individuals, urge policies to limit the number of new people entering federal custody, and secure emergency funding for reentry services and support of state and local efforts to similarly address the spread of COVID-19 in custodial settings. For more, read the release and letter.

“We, as former United States Attorneys, federal judges, Assistant United States Attorneys, and DOJ lawyers and leaders, understand the obligation to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community…To prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 in facilities under your federal control, we urge you to start commuting sentences immediately.”

FJP Speaks Out in Support of Ohio Lawsuit Requesting the Release and Transfer of Medically Vulnerable Individuals from Elkton Federal Prison

As COVID-19 ravages communities, individuals who are incarcerated are in grave danger. In this statement, in support of successful litigation, FJP underscores the heightened risk of COVID-19 within correctional facilities and why it is imperative that medically vulnerable people be released immediately. The statement further notes the impact that infections within prisons are already having on the broader community and how failing to depopulate our prisons will make our communities less safe.

Fair and Just Prosecution Comments on California Judicial Council’s Emergency Actions 

In this statement, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky praised the California Judicial Council’s action to set bail at $0 for misdemeanor and lower-level felonies and called for judicial and criminal justice leaders in other jurisdictions to follow suit.

“Our nation’s jails and prisons are a ticking time bomb – we have already seen deaths and infection in the hundreds in these dense facilities where abiding by CDC guidelines is simply not possible. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the death count will only mount as this infection takes hold. That’s why leadership and bold action is needed now before more lives are put at risk.”

Selected Press Coverage

KKFI 90.1: “Inmates Now Face COVID 19 – How to Socially Distance the Already Socially Distanced”

In this April 27, 2020 “Jaws of Justice” radio program, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discusses the need to reduce the number of people incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and how this crisis is an opportunity to reconsider “tough on crime” approaches to criminal justice.

New York Daily News: “Mr. President, let vulnerable people out of federal prisons now: Coronavirus demands a bold response”

In this April 14, 2020 op-ed, Roy L. Austin, Jr., Vanita Gupta and FJP Executive Director Miriam Aroni Krinsky discuss the letter signed by over 400 former DOJ leaders and attorneys and call on President Trump to use his commutation power to remove vulnerable individuals from harm’s way.

Salon: “Prosecutors: COVID-19’s threat to millions of incarcerated people needs to be addressed now”

In this March 21, 2020 op-ed, Portsmouth, VA Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the joint statement signed by over 30 elected prosecutors and the need for elected prosecutors to champion reforms to ensure the health and safety of the entire community.

The Washington Post: “Prosecutors, defense attorneys press to release inmates, drop charges and thin jail population in response to the coronavirus”

This March 19, 2020 article discusses the joint statement signed by over 30 elected prosecutors and how leaders across the country are calling for reductions in custodial populations in light of COVID-19.

Los Angeles Times: Editorial: Coronavirus makes jails and prisons potential death traps. That puts us all in danger”

This March 18, 2020 editorial discusses the joint statement signed by over 30 elected prosecutors and calls for rapid reform in Los Angeles County.

The Appeal: “Prosecutors Across U.S. Call for Action to Mitigate Spread of Coronavirus in Jails and Prisons” 

This March 17, 2020 article discusses the joint statement and discusses the need for rapid reductions in custodial populations to reduce the risk of a deadly health crisis across the US.

Additional Articles of Interest

‘Pacing and Praying’: Jailed Youths Seek Release as Virus Spreads

4.14 | The New York Times | Erica L. Green

California Courts Temporarily Change Rules To Ease Stress On System

4.7 | NPR | Eric Westervelt 

How Coronavirus May Change Criminal Justice

3.22 | Law 360 | RJ Vogt

District Attorneys Call for ‘Cite and Release’ for Offenses That Pose No ‘Physical Threat’

3.18 | | Jane Wester

Prosecutors Urge Reducing Detention Populations During Coronavirus Pandemic

3.18 | Boston Herald | Andrew Martinez

How to Prevent a Coronavirus Catastrophe in Jails

3.21 | Slate | Aviva Shen

Where Inmates Are Getting Bailed Out in the Coronavirus Crisis

3.21 | Slate | Brentin Mock

San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin Says COVID-19 Won’t End Without Criminal Justice Reform

3.24 | Forbes | Morgan Simon

Sacramento County Releases Inmates Early To Curb Coronavirus Spread

3.19 | Reason | Zuri Davis

What The COVID-19 Emergency Can Teach Us About “Alternatives To Incarceration”

3.17 | Witness LA | Celeste Fremon

Coronavirus: San Francisco, Contra Costa prosecutors join national call for jail releases

3.18 | San Francisco Chronicle | Megan Cassidy

STL Prosecutors Modify Protocols to Limit COVID-19 Exposure in Local Jails

3.17 | St. Louis American | Rebecca Rivas

St. Louis Prosecutors Move to Reduce Jail Populations to Stem COVID-19 Spread

3.17 | Riverfront Times | Danny Wicentowski

Jails Across California, Country Release Inmates Because of Coronavirus

3.19 | Fox 10 Phoenix | Lisa Fernandez

New Coronavirus Cases in US Jails Heighten Concerns About an Unprepared System

3.18 | KMOV4 | David Shortell and Kara Scannell

Hawaii Prosecutors Retool Policies To Avoid Filling Up Jails During Pandemic

3.23 | Honolulu Civil Beat | Yoohyun Jung

District Attorneys Call for Inmate Release Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

3.17 | CBS 6 Albany | Stephen Maugeri

Elected Prosecutors Call for Dramatic Reduction in Incarcerated and Detained Populations in Response to Coronavirus

3.18 | Davis Vanguard

Mass. Courts Restrict In-Person Appearances, Some Prosecutors Call For Reduced Jail Populations

3.17 | WBUR | Deborah Becker

Coronavirus Proves What We Knew All Along: Too Many People Are Prosecuted for BS Offenses

3.17 | Law & Crime | Elura Nanos