March 16, 2020
Governor Charlie Baker
Massachusetts State House, 24 Beacon St.
Office of the Governor, Room 280
Boston, MA 02133
Dear Governor Charlie Baker,
The Building Up People Not Prisons coalition led by Families for Justice as Healing represents incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, women and our families from the most incarcerated neighborhoods in Massachusetts, and allies from across the Commonwealth. We are united in our demand that you release as many people as possible from jails and prisons and stop the flow of people into jails and prisons in order to protect public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We want to express to you unequivocally: incarcerated people are part of our community, regardless of accusation or conviction. We love, care for, and are concerned about them. Their health and well-being have a direct impact on our collective health and well-being, now more than ever.
On March 10, you issued an Executive Order declaring a State of Emergency pursuant to the powers provided by Chapter 639 of the Acts of 1950 and Section 2A of Chapter 17 of the General Laws. As a result of the State of Emergency, and in an effort to contain COVID-19, you prohibited gatherings larger than 25 people on March 15. Far more than 25 people are locked inside jails and prisons at any given time. Locked down facilities have incredibly high infection rates, especially jails due to the transitory nature of the population. Incarcerated people do not have adequate access to medical care, basic hygiene practices, and preventive health measures. People in jails and prisons and their families deserve health and dignity and their well-being must be a part of the Commonwealth’s pandemic response.
A plan to immediately release people from jail and prison and prevent more people from being incarcerated is the best possible protection against the virus for incarcerated people, staff of facilities, court employees, lawyers, families of people involved with the criminal legal system, and our communities. When people are released from incarceration during and after the pandemic, they need and deserve access to healing, housing, healthcare, and treatment.
Chapter 639 of the Acts of 1950 also grant that the Governor “shall have and may exercise such authority relative to any or all of the following: (a) Health or safety of inmates [sic] of all institutions.” Therefore, concerned residents of the Commonwealth ask that you use your powers to immediately:
· Order the release of all people from pre-trial detention, including people held on bail and people held pending a hearing on an alleged violation of probation, who have not been convicted of crimes
· Order the release of all children detained by the Department of Youth Services
· Order the release of all people who have pending applications for medical parole
· Order the release of all people with six months or less left to serve on their sentence, whether sentenced to a county House of Correction or the Department of Correction
· Grant clemency for incarcerated people who are older than 60 with significant health conditions including respiratory illnesses, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and debilitating conditions
· Grant permission for all eligible people to be paroled, and ensure that parole grants result in immediate release
· Extend furloughs from 14 days to 60 days and grant permission for sentenced people to be furloughed
· Consider release for any person who has served more than 20 years of their sentence who does not pose a specific threat to public safety
The Executive Branch and criminal legal system stakeholders share a responsibility to “flatten the curve.” As such, it’s necessary for the Office of the Governor to issue directives to divisions of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security including the Department of Correction and all city, town, and state police departments, district attorneys, and sheriffs to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting incarceration. You must also task the Department of Public Health with ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our communities can both meet their basic needs and prevent the spread of the virus.
As people most impacted by the criminal legal system, we ask the Governor to recommend the following protocols to protect public health and safety:
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep systemic inequities as well as policies and practices that have always been unhealthy. For too long, we have relied on the criminal legal system as a catch-all response to social problems, trapping our most vulnerable residents, breaking up families, and destroying lives. Current rates of arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration come at an astronomical expense to tax-payers. And yet the extensive reach and high cost of the criminal punishment system has failed to produce safety and well-being in the Commonwealth over and over again. In this moment of crisis, we have an opportunity to take immediate action that will protect all of us from infection in the short-term, and improve our shared quality of life in the long-term.
Now is the time to disinvest from the criminal legal system and invest in permanent public health infrastructure like healing, housing, healthcare, treatment including comprehensive harm reduction services, and community-led economic development projects as a step toward healing and justice.
The Building Up People Not Prisons Coalition and undersigned organizations
Families for Justice as Healing
The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
Massachusetts Bail Fund
Black & Pink Boston Chapter
Material Aid and Advocacy Program
Deeper than Water
Showing Up for Racial Justice Boston
Jewish Voice for Peace Boston
Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network
New Beginnings Re-Entry Services
Greater Boston Legal Services CORI & Re-entry Project
Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts
Out Now Springfield
Coalition for Effective Public Safety
Dr. Mark Eisenberg, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical school, Massachusetts General Hospital
The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School
Unitarian Universalist Mass Action
Massachusetts Against Solitary Confinement
Ending Mass Incarceration Together
Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School
Formerly Incarcerated and Incarcerated Resistance Movement
The Rian Immigrant Center
National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts
Justice 4 Housing
Anti-Colonial Solidarity Network
CC: Secretary of Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Thomas Turco
Secretary of Executive Office of Health and Human Services Mary Lou Sudders
Commissioner of the Department of Correction Carol Mici
Commissioner of the Department of Public Health
Commissioner of Probation Ed Dolan
Chair of the Massachusetts Parole Board Gloriann Moroney
President of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association Anthony Gullini
President of the Massachusetts Sheriffs Association Peter Koutoujian