ACLU of Missouri Demands the Release from Prisons and Jails of Communities Vulnerable to COVID-19
ACLU of Missouri is Additionally Calling for the Release of People Currently in Pretrial Detention Because of Cash Bail to Prevent a Public Health Crisis
St. Louis — Missouri should heed public health experts’ advice and immediately release individuals in detention who are at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, wrote the ACLU of Missouri in a letter to Governor Parson and other state leaders today. In the letter, the ACLU of Missouri asks that system actors respond to recommendations put forth by public health experts, specifically calling for the immediate release from prisons and jails of communities identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as vulnerable, as well as people currently in pretrial detention, to prevent a public health crisis.
“We understand this is a difficult and unprecedented time for all. In such times, it is vital to protect our core values as well as to ensure public safety. Action must be taken to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and those who are incarcerated and in the state’s care. Missouri has an obligation to its residents to stop the spread of COVID-19, and it cannot do so if it ignores the needs of over 30,000 Missourians currently incarcerated. Balancing public safety while protecting liberty is central to how the ACLU of Missouri responds to crisis, and we are seeking partnership with stakeholders to achieve that balance for our state" said Luz María Henríquez, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri.
In the letter, the ACLU of Missouri is calling on:
- Governor Parson to grant commutations to anyone identified by the CDC as particularly vulnerable whose sentence would end in the next two years, to anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, and to anyone currently being held on a technical (crimeless) supervision violation.
- Police to stop arresting people for minor offenses and in other circumstances issue citations or desk-tickets in lieu of arrest so that people can return home, balancing the need for arrest with the overwhelming public safety concerns presented by coronavirus.
- Prosecutors to avoid cash bail requests and move for release in all but the very few cases where pretrial detention is absolutely the least restrictive means necessary to ensure a person’s return to court. They should also institute a review-and-release protocol in cases which bail was already sought in the past 30 days and the person is currently detained.
- Judges to allow anyone with an open criminal case and upcoming hearing the chance to voluntarily waive that hearing or conduct that hearing via telephone or video conference.
- Sheriffs to ensure that facilities are as empty, safe, and clean as possible and that hygiene products are free and readily available to incarcerated people and staff.
- Probation and Parole Agents and Parole Boards to expedite and expand release opportunities for incarcerated people, reducing the population in prisons as recommended by health experts. Boards should institute a presumption for release for all people who have a parole hearing scheduled in the next two years.