“The ACI and jails across Rhode Island are ticking time bombs for a coronavirus outbreak. Public health experts have made clear – if there is an outbreak in the prison system, it will affect all of us…
As part of a national week of action to address the COVID-19 crisis in America’s Jails and Prisons, a coalition of over 30 community organizations, faith leaders, and elected officials hosted a virtual rally to demand that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo address the health and safety of incarcerated people in the state of Rhode Island. Over 100 people joined the rally on Zoom, and over 900 participated in the rally on Facebook Live.
“The ACI and jails across Rhode Island are ticking time bombs for a coronavirus outbreak. Public health experts have made clear – if there is an outbreak in the prison system, it will affect all of us. We need to #freeThemAllToSaveUsAll,” said co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated Union and JLUSA 2020 Fellow Cherie Cruz.
Brad Brockman, former Executive Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights and Professor at the Brown School of Public Health said, “We need to be releasing people from prison. We need to reduce those numbers now—there’s no question about it.”
In a written statement, a collective of people inside John J Moran Medium Security Facility said “This pandemic is not an excuse or a cover for mistreatment of prisoners behind the walls of the ACI. The drastic measures currently being taken lack common sense and do nothing to address the issue, but they rather just punish us beyond our given sentence.”
The rally launched a day of action, asking participants to call the Governor, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC), and Attorney General Peter Neronha to demand immediate steps to:
- Grant parole to anyone eligible, release medically vulnerable populations and anyone within a year of their release date
- End pre-trial detention, bail, bond, and court fees
- Ensure medical treatment, access to outdoors, communications, and hot food at the ACI
The collective of people inside John J Moran Medium Security Facility finished by saying Governor Raimondo’s press conference comment on April 1st, that “people should find ways to get Fresh Air and Vitamin D,” should also apply to us. We’re not asking for special treatment, but only for that which is fair and humane.”
Here is the letter sent to Governor Raimondo:
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We are a collective of community organizations, faith leaders, and elected officials in Rhode Island calling on Rhode Island leadership to act immediately to protect the lives of people affected by the criminal justice system, as well as the safety of the state of Rhode Island. The spread of COVID-19 is a national emergency that could lead to the deaths of between 200,000 and one million people. It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to reduce the spread of this disease and make our communities safer. As such, the undersigned organizations are demanding that the state take immediate measures to protect vulnerable community members.
Governor Raimondo, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Health should take the following actions to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 within all jails, prisons, and detention centers and in the communities in which they are located:
- Release to the public the existing plan and procedures in place to address COVID-19 within state and federal prisons. Such a plan must include how necessary functions and services will continue if large numbers of staff are out with the virus. The plans for an outbreak must also include how necessary tasks performed by prisoners will continue if large numbers of prisoners become ill.
- Reclassify to community confinement all eligible prisoners, including those who are within 6 months of completing their sentence.
- Immediately place on furlough all elderly and medically vulnerable populations; temporarily lift 14-day statutory limit for furlough.
- Expedite grants of parole to anyone generally eligible under R.I.G.L. ch. 13-8; grant medical parole to medically vulnerable prisoners under Governor’s emergency powers.
- Ensure that there are sufficient medical beds and enough prison staff to ensure safety for staff, those incarcerated, and visitors. This should not result in prolonged, widespread lock-downs or prolonged use of solitary confinement.
- Provide soap, undiluted CDC-recommended hand sanitizer, medical care, comprehensive sanitation and cleaning of facilities and other safety measures free of charge as recommended by the CDC for those who remain incarcerated.
- Immediately eliminate medical co-pays and forward to the Policy Unit a recommendation that the medial co-pay policy be permanently amended.
- Inform all staff and incarcerated people about the virus and the measures they can take to minimize their risk of contracting or spreading the virus, including education on the importance of proper handwashing, coughing into their elbows, and social distancing to the extent they can. Information about the spread of the virus, the risks associated with it, and prevention and treatment measures must be based on the best available science.
- In lieu of visitation, persons confined or detained must have free access to phone calls and mail services. Phone calls and mail services should continue through this period, and facilities should maintain proper sanitation practices for common phone equipment.
Governor Raimondo, Attorney General Neronha, the RI Police Chiefs Association, the State Troopers, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, and Mayor Elorza should take the following actions to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 within the communities in which they are located:
- Cease all contacts, stops, and warrant enforcements unless there is a reasonable imminent concern for public safety.
- Cease arrests for all nonviolent offenses.
- Cease taking people into custody, except as a last resort.
- Maximize use of cite and release for as many offenses as possible within a jurisdiction’s policies.
- Even when necessary to place a person under arrest, have all arrestees screened by a medical provider for possible COVID-19 exposure before the person is taken to the local jail/booking facility in order to limit/prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.
- Provide all patrol officers with sufficient sanitizing products and one-page information sheets about COVID-19, for both their own use and to provide to people they encounter on the job.
- Ensure all patrol officers and other officers who interact with the public have access to sufficient testing and education about the virus for themselves, and other prompt medical care if needed.
- Ensure all employees in their command are aware that they should not report to work if they themselves are feeling any symptoms and that any leave will be fully compensated.
- Release to the public the existing plan for each law enforcement agency for how it plans to assist the public with combatting COVID-19 and with the steps it is taking to ensure the health and safety of the community and all officers.
Governor Raimondo, Attorney General Neronha, and The Chief Judges of the Courts should take the following actions to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 within the courts and the communities in which they are located:
To the extent allowable under law:
- Follow these guidelines for keeping the community safe, both in and out of jail, when considering bail applications and post-conviction motions to modify sentences.
- Default to noncustodial sentences wherever possible, including resolutions that avoid immigration detention where outbreak potential is highest.
- Decline to issue “failure to appear” warrants or “bench warrants.”
- If requested by defense counsel, agree to waive clients’ appearance for status court dates (for people both in and out of custody).
- Continue to eliminate all probation, parole, and pretrial meetings; court-ordered classes; in-person drug testing; collection of court debt; and modify all reporting conditions to phone-reporting.
- Release persons held in pre-trial detention, as well as those held on bail or bond and those held for fees and fines.
- Cancel probation or parole revocation hearings based on technical violations upon request of defense counsel and release those held in custody pending hearings on signature bonds.
- Ensure that people in custody receive a constitutionally-mandated speedy trial.
- Direct any failures to comply with local quarantine orders to the civil court system, not the criminal court system.
- Press prosecutors for a public health/COVID-19-informed justification for any actions/requests that would bring folks into courthouses, jails, and prisons. Ensure those justifications are on the record for public scrutiny.
- Extend unlimited paid sick leave to all employees that work at the court.
Please let us know when you have received this communication. We would like to discuss as a collective with your office these demands at your earliest convenience.
The letter is signed by the following organizations:
- Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance – AMOR
- Sunrise Providence
- Formerly Incarcerated Union of Rhode Island
- Providence Democratic Socialists of America
- Protect Families First
- Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere
- Black & Pink Providence
- SUGSE (Brown Grad Worker Union) Organizing Committee
- Project LETS
- Rhode Island and South Coast Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG)
- Young Democrats of Rhode Island
- The Womxn Project
- Facilitate Change LLC
- Substance Use Policy Education and Recovery PAC
- First Unitarian Church of Providence
- Coyote RI
- Rhode Island Medical Navigator Partnership
- Working Families Party
- RI Working Families Party
- Cranston Action Network
- Women’s Fund of Rhode Island
- Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Providence
- Parents Leading for Education Equity
- Providence Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
- Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee Providence
- Showing Up for Racial Justice RI (SURJ-RI)
- Independent Socialist Group
- Fortnight Wine Bar