This week, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Emancipate NC’s advocacy work has been thrust into a virtual mode. We have come together in Zoom meetings and conference calls with allies in all parts of the state to make strong demands to our officials to keep our incarcerated neighbors safe and healthy during the crisis.
We must emancipate an enormous number of people out of jail and prison.
Incarceration is inherently unhealthy and destabilizing to individuals, communities, and families. Even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, we consistently called for “cite and release” policies, bail reform, sentencing reform, and restorative justice diversion programs to keep people out of cages. There are better ways to deal with harm than locking people up. Now, the stakes are even higher.
Crowded conditions, preexisting health problems, poor medical care, and unsanitary quarters mean that incarcerated people are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
New Jersey is leading the way, releasing over 1,000 people yesterday. But in North Carolina, things are moving on a case-by-case basis. Whether or not an incarcerated person will be considered for release at this time depends on having a zealous criminal lawyer, as well as the orientation of your county’s District Attorney or Sheriff.
This case-by-case work is not enough. We need the Governor to make an executive order related to prison releases. We need every District Attorney to proactively seek to consent to MARs. We need every law enforcement office to decide to use their “cite and release” powers.
We spoke to an individual today caged in the Guilford County jail. He does not have adequate access to soap or sanitizer. He is recreating in groups of 20 people. He is spending inordinate amounts of time in cell.
If we don’t act, incarceration will be a death sentence for many of our neighbors.
Along with allies at the ACLU, NC Prisoner Legal Services, Siembra NC, Southern Vision Alliance, Down Home, and many more, we have signed onto the following letters. You can also make your voice heard by signing the Survival and Beyond petition, which addresses many of the pressing issues facing our state.
Letters Sent Urging NC Officials to Reduce and Protect Incarcerated Population Amidst Outbreak
Emancipate NC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility at Duke Law, Community Success Initiative, Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform, Disability Rights North Carolina, Forward Justice, North Carolina Justice Center, and North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services signed the series of letters asking officials to take necessary steps that include releasing people from jails and prisons who are not a threat to public safety, reducing the number of new people entering the system, and protecting the health of those currently incarcerated.
The requests are in line with steps that have already been taken in several North Carolina localities and others across the country in recognition of the unique vulnerability of incarcerated people and correctional staff to the pandemic. You may download and read them as PDFs below.