Montgomery, Alabama — With the novel coronavirus spreading quickly across the country, dozens of civil rights groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center, (SPLC) are demanding that the federal government and Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida officials ensure that the health and safety of people in jails, prisons and immigrant detention centers in the Deep South are being protected from the virus, and release those people most at risk of suffering serious complications or death.
The coalition of civil rights advocacy organizations are calling on states, in a series of demand letters, to immediately develop evidence-based protocols and proactively plan the prevention and management of a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Imprisoned and detained people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19,” said a letter signed by the groups, listed below. “They are housed in close quarters and are often in poor health. Without the active engagement of those who administer the facility, they have little ability to learn about ongoing public health crises or to take necessary preventative measures if they do manage to learn of them.”
States should also comply with state and national public health care guidelines, educate both staff and the people detained in state and federal facilities on the dangers of the virus and how to avoid contracting it, keep infected staff out of facilities and isolate individuals who have tested positive, avoid lockdowns, regularly screen and test all individuals in the facility and those who work there, ensure free and accessible phone communication with family members and confidential access to legal counsel, and release elderly people and others who are at a high risk of dying before they contract the disease.
The letter to Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves can be read here.
The letter to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards can be read here.
The letter to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis can be read here.
The coalition's demands come shortly after another coalition of immigrant rights organizations, including SPLC, raised the alarm in a letter to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials about COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities run by private prisons under ICE supervision across the Southeast.
Organizations in the coalition include:
- The Southern Poverty Law Center
- ACLU of Louisiana
- Daughters Beyond Incarceration
- The First 72+
- Innocence Project New Orleans
- Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana
- LA Repeal
- Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights
- The Louisiana Interfaith Coalition for Justice
- Louisiana Stop Solitary Coalition
- Louisiana Survivors for Reform
- Nola to Angola
- Orleans Public Defenders
- Participatory Defense Movement Nola
- Power Coalition for Equity and Justice
- Promise of Justice Initiative
- The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center
- Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)
- ACLU of Mississippi
- MacArthur Justice Center – University of Mississippi School of Law
- Mississippi Center for Justice
- Mississippi NAACP
- Mississippi Prison Reform Coalition
- People’s Advocacy Institute
- 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
- ACLU of Florida
- Community Justice Project
- Dream Defenders
- The Fines and Fees Justice Center
- Florida Cares
- Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy
- Florida Council of Churches
- Florida Immigrant Coalition
- Florida Justice Institute
- Florida Legal Services
- Florida Policy Institute
- Florida PTA
- Gainesville Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
- Jobs with Justice – Central Florida
- LatinoJustice PRLDEF
- New Florida Majority
- Organize Florida
- SEIU Florida Public Services Union
- Southern Legal Counsel