COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration / Leaders Speaking Out — Voices for Change

Fair and Just Prosecution is lifting up the voices and innovations of an exciting new generation of prosecutors. Included below are some of the many op-eds, podcasts, and other media highlighting the innovative thinking and thoughtful approaches to address the COVID-19 crisis behind bars being advanced by these inspiring and bold leaders. To receive FJP’s ongoing updates on news and articles, sign up here.

U.S. taxpayers already pay a high price to support America’s giant prison population. Now COVID-19 is costing them even more.

In this op-ed in MarketWatch, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Right on Crime’s Marc Levin discuss the dire need to reduce the number of people in jails and prisons in the wake of COVID-19 from both a humanitarian and fiscal responsibility perspective. Over-incarceration doesn’t reduce crime, poses an enormous burden to taxpayers, and — in the context of the current public health crisis — poses a deadly threat to both those behind bars as well as in the community.

“This pandemic has put a bright spotlight on the problems that have long festered in U.S. prisons and jails….By taking this opportunity to reexamine who, if, and for how long we incarcerate, as well as conditions of confinement, policymakers can ensure the U.S. emerges from this pandemic with a justice system that enables everyone to be safer and healthier.”

COVID-19 and the Youth Justice System

Treating kids like kids must be our fundamental starting point for rethinking youth justice, and prisons should have no place in our reimagining of that system. Conditions and outcomes in youth correctional facilities were poor even prior to the onset of the coronavirus virus, but now young people behind bars face additional trauma, medical risk, and dangerous isolation that is detrimental to their physical and mental wellbeing. As COVID-19 continues to spread in correctional facilities across the country and stretches budgets thin, we must ask ourselves, why we are continuing to lock children away in facilities that are costly and ineffective when better alternatives exist. In this video, experts and advocates discuss why these facilities must be shut down, once and for all.

A Message from DAs to Governors: Decarcerate Prisons Now

In this powerful video, DAs from across the United States read from their open letter to our nation’s governors. Reform-minded prosecutors have been working to shrink jail populations in the wake of the coronavirus; it’s time for governors to step up, join them, and save lives in prison today.

Prisons Are Overwhelmed With COVID-19. Why Aren’t Governors Doing More?

Read more about the urgent need for governors to decarcerate prisons in this op-ed in The Appeal by San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky. Over half of our nation’s COVID-19 deaths and infections among people incarcerated and working in local, state and federal correctional and detention facilities in the United States are in state prisons, and these facilities are hot spots for the pandemic. This op-ed underscores the universal failure of governors to address this crisis, and the need for immediate action to avoid further illness and death.

“How governors respond to this pandemic will define their legacy. They all face a choice: save lives in prisons now, or hand down potential death sentences with their inaction and watch harm ripple through communities and exacerbate inequities into future generations.”

As Pandemic Continues, Safe Injection Sites Could Save More Lives

In this op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the urgent need for the lifesaving services provided by overdose prevention sites (OPS) in the wake of multiple public health crises that our nation is now facing. An OPS like Safehouse in Philadelphia is a proven harm reduction strategy that saves lives, promotes trust in the justice system, and reduces the adverse impact of substance use disorder.

“America is facing three deadly epidemics: the opioid overdose crisis, COVID-19, and the systemic assault on Black lives. And as we collectively seek to envision a more humane and equitable response to substance use, overdose prevention sites are an important place to start.”

Tragedy of COVID-19 in Prisons Shows Need for Decarceration

The rapid spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons is a racial justice issue. In this San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, 16th Circuit Court of Mississippi (Columbus) District Attorney Scott Colom and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the importance of continued decarceration in order to protect Black lives both behind bars, as well as the entire community. As the explosion of infections within San Quentin Prison demonstrates, the cost of inaction is catastrophic.

“As countless Americans take to the streets in defense of Black lives and call for the transformation of policing, we must not neglect the threat that COVID-19 continues to present and the urgent need for immediate decarceration.”

Pathway to a New Normal: COVID-19 and the Opportunity for Prosecutors to Shrink the Justice System 

In this video, elected prosecutors discuss the human toll of COVID-19, the responsibility of elected prosecutors to mitigate the crisis, and the need to create a new normal with strategies that shrink the justice system and depopulate prisons and jails, while continuing to promote safe and healthy communities.

SF DA Chesa Boudin on COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration 

In this FJP video, San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin explains how COVID-19 and mass incarceration have intersected to create a public health crisis threatening the lives of millions of people behind bars in the United States. Citing how San Francisco has lowered its jail population by 40% since January 2020, Boudin urges DAs to take bold and decisive action now to protect the health and wellbeing of their entire community.

“As the district attorney, my primary concern is public safety. This particular moment of the COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever the ways in which mass incarceration actually undermines public safety.”

Lessons Learned from Germany on Decarceration

The United States is an international outlier with the highest incarceration rate in the world. And COVID-19 is rapidly spreading through our crowded jails and prisons – threatening to infect thousands both behind bars and in the community. Mass incarceration and the current pandemic have intersected to create a deadly crisis, underscoring the need to reexamine past punitive approaches and chart a new path forward. In this FJP video, Attorney General Karl Racine, District Attorneys Mark Gonzalez and Rachael Rollins, and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby discuss what they learned from Germany, where incarceration is the last resort and upholding human dignity is a core value of the justice system.

Mr. President, let vulnerable people out of federal prisons now: Coronavirus demands a bold response

In this New York Daily News op-ed, Roy L. Austin, Jr., Vanita Gupta and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky call on President Trump to use his commutation power to remove vulnerable individuals from harm’s way.

“People in our federal prisons aren’t disposable. Leaving thousands of elderly and medically vulnerable people behind bars fearing for their lives isn’t justice; it’s inhumane. We all lose, Mr. President, if this is our response.”

COVID-19’s Threat to Millions of Incarcerated People Must Be Addressed

In this Salon op-ed, Portsmouth, VA Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss why individuals behind bars are so vulnerable during this public health crisis and the common sense reforms that can be implemented – and should be championed by elected prosecutors – to ensure the health and safety of the entire community.

“It is in times such as these that our moral compass is tested; let us hope – for the health and safety of our entire community – that we pass that test.”

How San Francisco’s D.A. Is Decreasing The Jail Population Amid COVID-19

In this interview on Fresh Air, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin talks about his efforts toward rapid decarceration in the wake of COVID-19, the need for reform, and his personal connection to this issue.

“As district attorney, public safety is my primary responsibility. And right now we recognize that the single biggest threat to public safety in San Francisco, as across the globe, is COVID-19.”

Larry Hogan can lead by addressing COVID-19 in prisons and jails

In this Washington Post op-ed, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Carolyn Sufrin, a medical anthropologist and obstetrician/gynecologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Chris Beyrer, the Desmond M. Tutu Professor of Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to take rapid action to address the growing threat of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

“The governor needs to move quickly to decrease population of prisons and jails, and he can do so in a way that protects public safety. Indeed, he can enhance it, as public safety includes protection from this virus.”

Andrew Cuomo, Stop a Coronavirus Disaster: Release People From Prison

In this New York Times op-ed, New York City health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, called for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to release as many people as possible from New York’s correctional facilities, and to ensure they have the medical and re-entry help they need when they return home.

“If we don’t act fast, we jeopardize the lives of many. Worse yet, we risk creating a uniquely deadly incubator for the virus.”

Works of Justice 101 – Temperature Check: COVID-19 Behind Bars

In this podcast, PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program intern Kate Cammell spoke with Fair and Just Prosecution’s Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Research and Policy Associate Scarlet Neath about how prosecutors are addressing the rights and needs of those in custody during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to realize that public safety also includes healthy communities and if we continue to perpetuate this overincarceration epidemic we’re going to allow the pandemic to take hold.”

Our King County justice system is taking innovative steps in response to coronavirus

In this Seattle Times op-ed, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg describes efforts to safely release 500 medically vulnerable individuals from jail, with the support of an innovative housing program.

“We are a long way from the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the innovative steps our King County justice system is taking in response can propel us into a more modern era of criminal justice – all while maintaining public safety. That, we believe, is doing justice.”