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ACLU, Coalition for Smart Justice urge Carney to protect prison population from COVID-19

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and the Delaware Coalition for Smart Justice sent a letter March 24 to Gov. John Carney urging immediate action to protect one of Delaware’s most vulnerable populations: those living and working in correctional facilities.

“The Department of Justice and Department of Correction play key roles in minimizing the effects of COVID-19 in Delaware, because they can downsize the footprint of Delaware’s prison population and minimize new touchpoints to the criminal legal system,” the organizations wrote in a press release. “These steps are necessary to protect all Delawareans, including those living and working in our correctional facilities, police departments, and the general public — because once COVID-19 enters one of our correctional facilities, it will be almost impossible to contain.”

The letter, signed by more than 40 statewide organizations, identifies this population as one of the most at-risk for the devastating effects of a COVID-19 outbreak and further explains how an outbreak in one of Delaware’s prisons is a serious public health concern. It asks the governor to take three steps to ensure the safety of those living and working in Delaware’s correctional facilities:

— Grant immediate commutation or issue an executive order to release, where it is in line with public safety and the success of the inmate, anyone who: is identified by the CDC as particularly vulnerable — older than 60 and individuals with immune deficiencies, chronically ill, infirm — whose sentence would end in the next two years; has a sentence would end in the next 6 months; is being held pre-trial for inability to post bail; and is incarcerated on a probation revocation based on a technical violation.

— Direct the Delaware Department of Correction to coordinate with local service providers to ensure that people released from prison have a safe, accessible place to live, a liveable income and access to healthcare.

— Direct all criminal legal system agencies and actors who are part of the state’s coronavirus response maintain transparency and release timely, public information about any plans to ensure the safety of those who live and work in Delaware’s correctional facilities, where it is appropriate to do so.

Dubard McGriff, manager of ACLU-DE’s Campaign for Smart Justice, urged Carney to take action now.

“What happens next with Delaware’s prison response to COVID-19 will be a defining moment in the state’s legacy of criminal justice reform,” said McGriff. “We need to act now.”

A copy of the letter is available at bit.ly/2JoUqod.

ACLU-DE published an action guide with calls to action, social media graphics, sample scripts and messaging points, available at bit.ly/2vIyuAW.