DPA Leads Vast Coalition of Public Health Orgs & Professionals Calling on the CDC to Adopt Decarceration & Expanded Health Care Access in Guidance to Slow Spread of COVID-19

Press Release April 9, 2020
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
[email protected]

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), in partnership with JusticeLA and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—signed by 117 other organizations and 579 individual public health professionals—urging them to explicitly adopt decarceration and expanded healthcare access for incarcerated and newly released people as a public health imperative to combatting COVID-19 in our communities.

The letter follows troubling reports of rapidly escalating outbreaks within the country’s jails, prisons and youth and immigration detention centers. These institutions have failed to maintain control of the spread of COVID-19, reduce capacity to allow for social distancing, offer necessary hygienic supplies or personal protective equipment to ward off infection, and ultimately provide adequate access to healthcare for those who need it; the results of which have proved fatal.

In order to prevent catastrophic loss of life within these facilities and the surrounding communities, DPA and the letter’s co-signers demand that the CDC add to its recommended guidance for federal, state and local officials immediately.

Queen Adesuyi, Policy Manager, Office of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
“People in prison and detention can’t practice the same social distancing or hygiene measures the rest of us so easily can. And unfortunately, we are already seeing the devastating results of this, as the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths go higher and higher. And to make things even worse, people in jails, prisons or detention centers often can’t access adequate healthcare should they become infected and need treatment. This situation has led to an extremely gruesome scenario in these facilities, where sick people quickly infect others, and those infections can put the communities where they’re based at risk. Neglecting to quickly reduce the population in these facilities is essentially handing hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people a death sentence. Today, we are calling on the CDC to fully recognize this very significant public health threat and include decarceration and expanded healthcare access for incarcerated and recently released individuals in their guidance to federal, state and local officials to slow the spread and protect the most vulnerable.”

Dr. Shamsher Samra, Emergency Medicine Physician working in L.A. County Jails and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Harbor UCLA
“At baseline, carceral and detention settings are antithetical to health; in the setting of COVID-19, they are particularly dangerous. Not only is application of social distancing to stop the spread of disease impractical but the constraints of custody impair timely medical care for those who are infected. Interaction with these institutions is known to exacerbate social, economic, and medical vulnerabilities increasing individual and community risk. For these reasons, it is imperative that the CDC quickly and explicitly name decarceration as a central part of any federal, state, or local effort to promote individual and public health in the midst of this historic pandemic.”

Dr. David L. Nathan, Founder & Board President, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR)
“As pleased as I am about the broad-based support for this letter, I’m disappointed by the CDC’s failure to adequately address the grave situation now evolving among our nation’s incarcerated population. With the potentially rapid spread of COVID-19 as a constant threat, hundreds of thousands of medically vulnerable incarcerated and detained people face severe illness or death in custody. There is no excuse for holding them in overcrowded conditions without adequate access to healthcare. The solution is to decarcerate those with low level offenses, ensure humane living conditions to individuals that remain incarcerated, and provide healthcare access to all socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.”

For other resources around COVID-19, please visit drugpolicy.org/covid19.

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