Contain COVID19, Not People.
This letter being shared by a coalition led by the Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project and other organizations and individuals dedicated to supporting incarcerated and criminalized people. Please view the letter here:
As all levels of government call on people to prioritize health, protocols to protect the health of people who remain imprisoned have been insufficient. As people and organizations dedicated to supporting individuals who are imprisoned and their communities, we are concerned about the lack of protocols to protect and prioritize the health of those who remain behind bars. People should be released to the extent possible. We demand a response to COVID-19 that leaves no one behind and centres those most impacted. Due to existing unsanitary conditions, close quarters, frequent physical contact, and the underlying chronic health conditions of many detained people - jails, prisons, immigration detention centers, juvenile detention facilities, and courthouses pose specific challenges that threaten the health and wellbeing of our communities. To combat the spread of COVID-19 and prioritize everyone’s health, we must adopt an approach that centres the needs of criminalized people and those made vulnerable to the virus by social inequality.
I. Take immediate action to reduce the number of people in prison, jails, and detention centers:
- Release all youth to the care of family and community.
- Release from prison and jails individuals who will become particularly vulnerable should they contract COVID-19 - including people who are over 50, pregnant or immunocompromised.
- Extend the temporary absence program and release people in pretrial detention who are legally innocent and those serving sentences who are not considered an immediate danger to the community - including those waiting on sureties, probation violation hearings, or parole revocation proceedings.
- Release all immigrants and refugees from jails and immigration detention centers. Do not conduct immigration enforcement operations, especially in or around shelters, hospitals, or medical clinics.
- Suspend arrests, prosecutions, and pre-trial detention for all non-violent charges. Allocate resources for community-based transformative justice responses.
II. Take immediate action to protect those who remain imprisoned:
- Provide soap, hand sanitizer, bleach, and cleaning supplies to every prisoner at no cost. Ensure that those who are arrested are held in locations where they do not share toilets, soap, utensils, or bedding.
- Solitary confinement should not be relied on for health and safety. Increase access to fresh air spaces with safe social distancing for anyone who is detained.
- In the absence of visitations, all phone calls and other forms of contact should be free. Restrictions on calls to cell-phones and switchboards should be lifted immediately.
- Ensure medical programs are fully funded, accessible, and staffed. Provide training, protective gear, and regular testing for incarcerated persons and staff in the facilities. Ensure the availability of medications and treatments.
III. Take immediate actions for the health of the working poor & criminalized:
- Make COVID-19 testing and treatment free and available to all.
- Legislate two weeks of paid sick days for all workers and provide emergency financial support for unemployed people and people without immigration status.
- Impose an immediate moratorium on eviction and foreclosure proceedings.
- Immediately end fare enforcement on public transit.
- Impose an immediate moratorium on all utility shut-offs and restore shut-off utilities.
- Ensure the availability of medications and treatments including opioid-substitution.
- Cease the criminalization of drug use and provide funding for harm reduction and supervised consumption.
IV. Take immediate actions for the health of the region’s unhoused population:
- Provide locations for unhoused people to self-quarantine in individualized spaces.
- Provide emergency shelters that can remain open 24 hours a day with 3 meals a day. Provide 24-hour access to soap, hand sanitizer, water, showers, and restrooms.
We call on our local, provincial, and federal officials to publicize protocols and take the preceding immediate actions for our collective health.
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