Protect Families from COVID19, Shut Down the Berks County Detention Center

castetler@pa.gov, mimessinge@pa.gov, LGoffice@pa.gov, cleinbach@countyofberks.com, mrivera@countyofberks.com, kbarnhardt@countyofberks.com, abeam@pa.gov

Tim_gibbon

As reported COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania continue to grow, making it an emerging national hotspot for the disease, the Shut Down Berks Coalition urgently demands that Governor Wolf immediately issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) to stop ICE from using the Berks County Detention Center as a family prison. We also demand that Berks County Commissioners work together with the Governor's Office to convert the facility into one that provides human resources for their constituents.

Public health experts have advised against large gatherings of people, and the Governor has rightly taken action to shut down the Capitol and schools across the commonwealth from the beginning, whereas the Commissioners have already issued the release of those in county jail. We ask that the same protections be extended to the parents, children and babies at the Berks County Detention Center.  

Jails, prisons and detention centers are cramped and unsanitary places where people are routinely denied healthcare, and we are already seeing the dire results, with a jail now being confirmed as the largest known source of coronavirus infections in the U.S. The Berks County Detention Center already has a long history of medical neglect and outbreaks, in addition to detention itself being physically and mentally harmful. COVID-19 creates conditions that will inevitably result in a human rights crisis in Berks unless the Commonwealth takes decisive action. COVID-19 arrived at a private prison in Delaware County mid-March, while deaths and infections of inmates and personnel keep growing at Pike County jail and York County jail--where immigrants are also held by ICE, the infection brought in by staff members. There is every likelihood the same will happen in Berks.

Concurrently, Federal immigrant officials in 2019 made it national policy to deny those in their custody vaccinations for influenza. Social distancing under CDC guidelines is impossible for families detained in an enclosed congregate setting with shared bathrooms and communal eating and sleeping areas. Detained families with no access to proper hygiene and real medical care combined with overcrowding, institutionalized medical neglect, and now the threat of Coronavirus, will only ensure that people will die. Lack of medical care and poor detention conditions have already caused 38 reported deaths since Trump has been in office, and ten deaths in FY2020 alone, many of whom have been children.

At the end of March, a Federal Judge ruled that ICE was to release detained children and parents of detained children or give reason for their continued detainment by April 6th. We knew that ICE would not willingly comply with the ruling but this decision could have ensured that if ICE can no longer use the Berks facility, which would have been the result of an Emergency Removal Order, then they would have had to release families immediately.

The Shut Down Berks Coalition demands that Governor Tom Wolf act swiftly in issuing an ERO, and that his office works together with Berks County Commissioners Barnhardt, Leinbach and Rivera to transition the family prison into a facility that provides human services for the people of Berks County. Further inaction by the Governor and Commissioners during this pandemic is risking the lives of both the families and detention center workers.

Recognizing that our current situation, in the context of developing and changing circumstances, we have updated some of the language in this petition. We have kept the spirit and demand of the original version, while revising deadlines and updating facts.


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Philadelphia, PA

To: castetler@pa.gov, mimessinge@pa.gov, LGoffice@pa.gov, cleinbach@countyofberks.com, mrivera@countyofberks.com, kbarnhardt@countyofberks.com, abeam@pa.gov
From: [Your Name]

As reported COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania continue to grow, making it an emerging national hotspot​ for the disease, the Shut Down Berks Coalition urgently demands that Governor Wolf immediately issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO)​ to stop ICE from using the Berks County Detention Center as a family prison. We also demand that Berks County Commissioners work together with the Governor's Office to convert the facility into one that provides human resources for their constituents.

Public health experts have advised against large gatherings of people, and the Governor has rightly taken action to shut down the Capitol and schools across the commonwealth from the beginning, whereas the Commissioners have already issued the release of those in county jail. We ask that the same protections be extended to the parents, children and babies at the Berks County Detention Center.

Jails, prisons and detention centers are cramped and unsanitary places where people are routinely denied healthcare, and we are already seeing the dire results​, with a jail now being confirmed as the largest known source of coronavirus infections in the U.S.​ The Berks County Detention Center already has a long history of medical neglect​ and outbreaks​, in addition to detention itself being physically and mentally harmful​. COVID-19 creates conditions that will inevitably result in a human rights crisis in Berks unless the Commonwealth takes decisive action. COVID-19 arrived at a private prison in Delaware County​ mid-March, while deaths and infections of inmates and personnel keep growing at Pike County jail​ and York County jail​--where immigrants are also held by ICE, the infection brought in by staff members. There is every likelihood the same will happen in Berks.

Concurrently, Federal immigrant officials in 2019 made it national policy to deny those in their custody vaccinations for influenza​. Social distancing under CDC guidelines is impossible for families detained in an enclosed congregate setting with shared bathrooms and communal eating and sleeping areas. Detained families with no access to proper hygiene and real medical care combined with overcrowding, institutionalized medical neglect, and now the threat of Coronavirus, will only ensure that people will die. Lack of medical care and poor detention conditions have already caused 38 reported deaths since Trump has been in office, and ten deaths​ in FY2020 alone​, many of whom have been children.

At the end of March, a Federal Judge ruled that ICE was to release detained children and parents of detained children or give reason for their continued detainment by April 6th​. We knew that ICE would not willingly comply with the ruling but this decision could have ensured that if ICE can no longer use the Berks facility, which would have been the result of an Emergency Removal Order, then they would have had to release families immediately.

The Shut Down Berks Coalition demands that Governor Tom Wolf act swiftly in issuing an ERO, and that his office works together with Berks County Commissioners Barnhardt, Leinbach and Rivera to transition the family prison into a facility that provides human services for the people of Berks County. Further inaction by the Governor and Commissioners during this pandemic is risking the lives of both the families and detention center workers.