Washington D.C. – Today, the Drug Policy Alliance shared a letter, coordinated in partnership with The Sentencing Project, from 200 experts in the medical and public health community sent to President-elect Biden and the Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board recommending substantial reductions in federal, state, and local incarceration levels to limit the spread of the virus.
“Since the pandemic, decarceration has been too modest…Meaningful and effective decarceration amidst the pandemic can limit the number of people exposed to the virus in leading coronavirus clusters while also protecting the broader communities to which these individuals return,” said the letter signed by a cadre of researchers and practitioners in leading research universities, medical centers, and prisons and jails.
Research has found that many incarcerated people, including those who have served long sentences, do not pose an unreasonable public safety risk. The letter calls on the Board to recommend policies to the new administration that encourage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explicitly call for decarceration in its guidance and to support COVID-19 relief funding for state, local, and tribal carceral systems to incentivize a significant reduction of incarcerated populations.
Signers of the letter offered these comments:
Gregg Gonsalves, PhD, Yale School of Public Health
“In the context of COVID-19 occupancy limits are being enforced for restaurants, bars, and other indoor settings around the country. Detention and correctional facilities are crowded, often unsanitary spaces and should be subject to occupancy limits as well to stem the spread of SARS-CoV2. We need to decarcerate to keep people in these places and in the surrounding communities safe.”
Alex H. Kral, PhD, RTI International
“The data is abundantly clear that prisons and jails are the least safe COVID-19 environments in the United States. Since these environments cannot be made safer, we need to move people out of prison and jail settings.”
Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes, University of Colorado, Denver
“Health equity is a critical component of social justice and wellbeing and therefore addressing the longstanding history of social injustices leading to the unfair distribution of health and disease constitutes a critical priority of the practice of modern medicine. As physicians we must strive to reduce social inequities through advocacy efforts and policy change to remove racial residential segregation, food and housing insecurity, poor educational opportunities, discrimination and other structural vulnerabilities including mass incarceration and the death penalty. Health equity is not only about medical interventions during a clinical encounter; it involves community-activism to improve life opportunities and the redistribution of social capital and resources among marginalized communities to promote healthier lives and social wellness. The COVID-19 pandemic has been responsible for as many deaths among incarcerated individuals in the US over a nine-month period as the total number of individuals executed by the death penalty over a 44-year period (1449 deaths by COVID-19 and 1526 executions since 1976).”
The letter’s signatories urge the Biden team to take immediate action to expedite the depopulation of carceral facilities during the pandemic.