HARRISBURG — The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Friday, urging the department to issue guidance to all stakeholders in the criminal legal system regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter makes clear the devastating outcomes that will occur should existing incarceration policies and practices remain unchanged.
After learning how several large counties have been responding, actions that range from positive efforts to release people, to conducting business as usual, to outright refusing to address parole requests, the letter urges the Department of Health to issue immediate guidance on steps that should be taken to reduce prison and jail populations safely and responsibly in the midst of the pandemic.
The recommendations outlined in the letter include an end to the use of cash bail, not issuing new bench warrants, not arresting people for low-level offenses, and to stop revoking parole and probation for technical offenses or minor infractions. The letter also urges an expedited parole review process, a fast-track for medically vulnerable people to be furloughed, and to continue daily bail modification hearings and detainer reviews.
“At the best of times, Pennsylvania’s criminal legal system is full of trip-wires and inequities that disproportionately impact people of color and people who live in poverty,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “To operate our jails and prisons in a business-as-usual fashion is a recipe for catastrophe, illness, and death at a scale that is difficult to comprehend. We urge the Department of Health to issue this guidance and county judges, district attorneys, county executives, and county jails to take swift action to ensure that we mitigate this pandemic immediately.
“Bold action today can still stave off much more serious public health problems, but the time to act is now.”
You can find a copy of the letter here.