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COVID-19 is a public health crisis that we haven’t faced in generations. While the most vulnerable people in our communities- whether they be elderly, chronically ill and immunocompromised, or poor and working class- are the most threatened, the virus does not discriminate. All of us have already been impacted as our state goes into lockdown and we all begin practices of social distancing and isolation. Given what’s happened in Italy and countries across the world, it’s clear that our economic system and healthcare infrastructure are both at risk of total collapse as they’re put to a test they’ve never experienced before. We need public officials to put politics aside and take decisive action to protect our lives.

And right now, the US incarceration system represents a massive threat to the health and safety of every person in this country, not just those who are currently incarcerated. The tight confines and communal spaces of jails and prisons make social distancing an absolute impossibility, and have limited resources for sanitation. Bret Grote, Legal Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, states, “The prime directive to people across the country and across the world now is social distancing. This is impossible within jails and prisons.”

The threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in our jails and prisons isn’t a question of “if”, but “when”- and such an outbreak would be impossible to contain or even address.This would undermine all other efforts to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic, completely overwhelming our County’s medical infrastructure and drying up public coffers in efforts to respond to the aftermath.

And for those locked up in the jail-most of whom are inside for minor and non-violent offences or are awaiting sentencing pre-trial- the consequences would be dire.

As an ACLU lawyer in North Carolina put it, “Keeping people in jail will be a death sentence.” And what does it say about us if in the United States of America, a country founded on principles of equality and justice for all, on inalienable human rights, if we of all nations allow people in jail to languish and die of this plague as a result of the inaction of our elected leadership?

Our entire country is under threat thanks to the inaction of President Donald Trump who refused to prepare us for the impact this virus would have on all of us- we look to the elected officials of Chester County to heed the warning of medical experts and not do the same.

We’re calling on District Attorney Deb Ryan, President Judge John L. Hall, and other County officials to save our lives and decarcerate Chester County Jail. Through taking the steps outlined in the demands listed below, we would effectively be limiting the intake of new inmates and releasing those who are at high-risk for COVID-19 and low-risk of harm to the community, with instructions and support to self-isolate for two weeks so we can combat this epidemic. We also ask for transparency around efforts that are being made to address this issue so the community can work alongside our elected officials to protect our health and safety.

These aren’t radical requests- this is an unprecedented crisis that requires an unprecedented response. We’ve seen public officials from both Parties taking action across the nation to decarcerate jails because of the danger they represent to public health (references at bottom). Our communities are made less safe by housing individuals in these institutions where COVID-19 can so easily spread.

We need our elected leaders to take this moment as an opportunity to stand as Community Protectors and #RescueChesCo. There will be those who use this as an opportunity to pit victims and offenders against one another, but this virus doesn’t discriminate. We aren't negotiating the safety of some for the safety of others. We are all at risk so long as people remain incarcerated through this pandemic and need to find alternatives that keep our community safe, whether it be from COVID-19 or violence.

We’re calling upon our leaders to put politics and questions about the next election to the side and be bold enough to take the action necessary to save our lives. To do anything less would be to put each and every one of us in danger.

The Chester County Court System should:

The District Attorney of Chester County should:

Law enforcement agencies throughout Chester County should:

County government and the jail administration should immediately:

We call on our colleagues both in the Office of the Public Defender and in the private criminal defense bar to begin to file motions and petitions, in a pro bono capacity, for all individuals held in Chester County Jail under a probation detainer, unaffordable or unjustifiably restrictive bond, and serving long probation or parole terms.

We are demanding that all governmental agencies collaborate on this initiative in order to protect public health. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 — and its mortality rate — requires that we release as many of our neighbors as possible, as they are part of our families and communities. Protecting them and our greater community from avoidable harm go hand in hand, and this must be our shared imperative.

We are calling on other organizations and community leaders in Chester County to endorse and circulate this statement and help shape the course of the response to COVID-19 in our community.

To sign on to the statement, fill out the form below or sign on here.

Current Supporters

Food & Water Watch

Vonie Long, President USW Almagamated Local 1165 Chester County

Cassie Grainge, Defender at Philadelphia Public Defenders Office

Nydea Graves, Coatesville City Council-At Large Candidate

Abolitionist Law Center

Reclaim Philadelphia

Alison Updyke Neff, West Chester University

Julie Tennille, West Chester University

Dr. Meg Panichelli, West Chester University

Chelsea L. Shover, PhD, Epidemiologist and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stanford University

Brie Radis, West Chester University

Pete DiMaio, Coatesville Community Advocate

Noel Vest, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow and formerly incarcerated scholar, Stanford University School of Medicine

Jennifer Lopez, Homeless Family Advocate

Pier Cicerelle, West Chester University

Dean Johnson, West Chester University

David Phillips, Family First Painters

Karen Johnson, Chester County Stands Up

Casey Bohrman, Associate Professor of Graduate Social Work at West Chester University

Elgin Bailey, Chester County Stands Up

The following are only a few examples of Public Officials releasing inmates in light of COVID-19:

US starts to release inmates due to coronavirus outbreak

Bexar sheriff releases more than 200 from downtown San Antonio jail amid coronavirus concerns

Hundreds of Utah inmates will soon be released in response to coronavirus

Metro Corrections releasing non-violent inmates to prevent coronavirus spread

COVID-19 causes some inmate releases at Middle River Regional Jail

Nashville sheriff to release inmates to reduce risk of coronavirus

Authorities release 80 McLennan County Jail inmates as COVID-19 precaution

Bay Area courts, authorities ramp up release of inmates to stem COVID-19 risks in jails

Kamala Harris wants 'low-risk' inmates released amid fears of COVID-19 spreading in prisons