The DOJ Can Stop COVID-19 in Prisons

Kristen M. Clarke, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General

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Photo by Jordan Mazurek, from Aug 22, 2020 Mass Memorial in Tallahassee for People Killed by COVID-19 in FL Prisons

[This petition has been updated as of 1/26/2021 to narrow its focus on demanding action from the incoming head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division.]

Sign this petition demanding investigation and enforcement action to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19 among prisoners who are unable to socially distance or access proper PPE to protect themselves.

Reducing the number of people behind bars must be the number one priority.

This petition will be hand-delivered to the DOJ staff in the Civil Rights Division on February 1st to call for immediate action. While the DOJ acknowledges the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on COVID in prisons, they have fallen short of enforcing the level of adequate health care required by the U.S. Constitution and facilitated by the "Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA).

[FIND OUT ABOUT GETTING INVOLVED WITH THE PLAN TO HAND-DELIVER THIS PETITION IN D.C. ON FEB 1st, NATIONAL FREEDOM DAY.]

There are over 6,000 state, local and federal prisons across the United States. Many of them have become hotspots of COVID-19, with disproportionately high impacts among Black and Latinx prisoners, particularly in Southern states.

A January 14th statement from the DOJ in regards to one county jail offers an example of the sort of power they have under CRIPA to push state and local facilities towards safer settings for vulnerable prisoner populations.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe the conditions at the Cumberland County Jail in Bridgeton, New Jersey, violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution as a result of failing to take measures to provide adequate mental health care. (Similar investigation and enforcement actions are underway against abuse in Lowell CI, Florida and against the entire Alabama state prison system.)

In an Aug 26 DOJ statement on CRIPA action related to COVID-19 in public nursing homes, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division stated that “Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members...is one of our country’s most important obligations.”

We agree.

Research from Johns Hopkins and UCLA showed prisoners are 550% more likely to catch COVID-19, and 300% more likely to die from it than the general population.

According to the New York Times COVID-19 Case Tracker, in mid-August 84 of the top 100 COVID-19 outbreak hotspots in the country were prisons and jails. Fifteen of them were located in Florida’s incarceration system alone.

The greatest relief from COVID-spreading conditions would come from the DOJ using its power to immediately investigate and take swift action on entire state prison systems, as it has done in Alabama.

This could apply significant pressure to force life-saving changes.

If we do not get a sufficient response, we will take the issue to the United Nations to call for international attention on the reckless negligence of U.S. institutions with regards to the lives of prisoners in this pandemic.
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To: Kristen M. Clarke, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General
From: [Your Name]

The DOJ must conduct rigorous investigation and swift enforcement action, with support from the CDC, to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19 among prisoners who are unable to socially distance or access proper PPE to protect themselves.

There are over 6000 state, local and federal prisons across the United States. Many of them have become hotspots of Covid-19, with disproportionately high impacts among Black and Latinx prisoners​, particularly in Southern states​.

A recent statement from the DOJ in regards to public nursing homes​ offers an example of the sort of power your agency has to push state, federal and local facilities towards safer settings for vulnerable prisoner populations

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced on Aug 26, 2020 that it is looking towards investigations under the federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA), which protects the civil rights of persons in state-run​ nursing home facilities. This can and should be applied to prisons and jails.

In that statement, ​Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights stated that ​“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members...is one of our country’s most important obligations.”

I agree.

You must use your power investigate and take action on entire state prison systems, as you have done in Alabama.

Research from Johns Hopkins and UCLA shows prisoners are 550% more likely to catch COVID-19, and 300% more likely to die from it than the general population.

According to the New York Times COVID-19 Case Tracker, 84 of the top 100 COVID-19 outbreak hotspots in the country are prisons and jails, 15 of them, for example are located in Florida’s incarceration system alone.

A DOJ investigation into these state prisons systems adherence to CDC guidelines could apply significant pressure to force life-saving changes.

Please confirm receipt of this message and send your response to: INFO@NATIONINSIDE.ORG