Depopulating Prisons Must Be Part of Biden’s Commitment to Racial Justice and COVID-19

Depopulating Prisons Must Be Part of Biden’s Commitment to Racial Justice and COVID-19

WASHINGTON — The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with 109 organizations, sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting a meeting and urging swift action to protect the health and safety of incarcerated individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the groups are demanding for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to release individuals from home confinement through its expanded authority under the CARES Act, or through compassionate release.

In response to COVID-19, our coalition has spent the last year calling on elected officials to reduce the prison population in order to curb the spread of the virus. Yet officials at all levels of government are failing to do so, despite the high rates of infection. Not surprisingly, as of February 24, 2021, there have been a staggering 47,694 coronavirus cases among the approximately 125,000 individuals in BOP custody – more than one third of the population – along with more than 6,000 cases among federal correctional facility staff. 222 people in federal custody and four staff have died.

The letter reads in part: “While the pandemic jeopardizes everyone’s safety, incarcerated individuals are much more likely to be people with disabilities or to have pre-existing health conditions, making them exceptionally vulnerable due to overcrowding, unsanitary prison conditions, and a lack of access to quality healthcare services. Though the COVID-19 vaccine is a critical advancement, distribution to incarcerated populations will take precious time, and correctional medical experts expect participation rates will be low because the BOP has failed to pair vaccine roll out with needed outreach and education.”  

The letter calls on the Biden administration to take the following actions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons:

  • the immediate elimination of solitary confinement;

  • prioritization of incarcerated seniors and other vulnerable populations for release or transfer;

  • implementation of system-wide access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines;

  • minimization of arrests and detention;

  • elimination of the use of PATTERN in consideration of home confinement or compassionate release; and

  • expanded data collection obligations for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

The Leadership Conference previously asked BOP to report demographic information for incarcerated persons and staff who have contracted, recovered, and died from COVID-19.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.