Petition for the Release of Incarcerated People of Centre County
As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, a group of people who are being left behind are those currently incarcerated. It is impossible for county jails like the Centre County Correctional facility to implement the critical preventive measures called for in CDC Guidance. Governor Wolf and the state of Pennsylvania have instituted shelter-in-place orders and are now calling on the people of Pennsylvania to wear masks whenever in public spaces - something that is denied to the people incarcerated in these county prisons. Additionally, in the limited space of county prisons, it is impossible for incarcerated people to maintain safe social distancing of at least six feet apart. To keep people imprisoned under these conditions is incredibly inhumane and is effectively sentencing them to sickness and potentially to death.

When incarcerated people inevitably contract COVID-19, treatment will likely be delayed or inadequate, which will increase the time that they are exposed to other people who have not yet gotten sick and will increase the likelihood of death or serious illness. According to data from the National Corrections Reporting Program [1], the percentage of state prison populations who are 55 years of age or older was 12% in 2016 and trending upwards, a population at especially high risk of death from COVID-19. Incarcerated people are additionally more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions than the general public. Pair this data with the inadequate conditions of prisons (spacing, PPE, sanitation), and the risk for an outbreak within the Centre County Correctional facility skyrockets.

Per the Centre County government webpage on the correctional facility [2], visits to those imprisoned and outside programming have been cancelled and attorney visits are being permitted on a case-by-case basis. It is evident that the Centre County Government understands the risks posed to those visiting the prison and to those within the prison, but as yet is unwilling to take the action necessary to prevent sickness and loss of life. It is also evident from the government web page that incarcerated people are still expected to pay to make calls to friends and family, further exemplifying the inhumanity with which these people are regarded.

Incarcerated people are not the only people at risk of contracting COVID-19; staff who work at these prisons are also at heightened risk to contract COVID-19 and subsequently take it back into their own communities, exacerbating the spread in Centre County and across the state of Pennsylvania. There are now over 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Centre County, almost 15,000 in the state of Pennsylvania, and almost 400,000 in the United States. As this pandemic persists, the risk to those imprisoned and those who work in prisons will only stand to increase.

Our demands are as follows:

-Release as many people as possible from Centre County Correctional Facility, with priority to those imprisoned pre-trial, on short sentences for minor offenses, currently held on cash bail, or at heightened risk of serious illness due to age or underlying health issues

-Provide shelter for those released, including in currently vacant hotels

-Provide necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation materials (soap, hand sanitizer) to anyone not released from the prison and to the staff who interact with incarcerated people.

-Urge Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Government to enact similar policies at the state level

We urge the Centre County government to act on these concerns expediently and comprehensively, as every day wasted is likely to cost lives.

[1] https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/03/19/this-chart-shows-why-the-prison-population-is-so-vulnerable-to-covid-19
[2] https://centrecountypa.gov/226/Correctional-Facility
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