Taking Action for Health, Justice, and Belonging in the Age of COVID-19

By the Health Instead of Punishment Program Team

Amber Akemi Piatt speaking at a #CloseTheCamps rally in August 2019. Photo by Brooke Anderson Photography.

The fact that incarceration is harmful to the health of everyone in jails, prisons, or detention centers did not begin nor will it end with the novel coronavirus.

This includes people who are currently incarcerated, people who were formerly incarcerated, their loved ones, and the people who work in these facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic adds a concentrated urgency to this reality and foregrounds important truths.

Thus, we continue to support movement leaders’ demands that were first uttered long before the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. We must stop incarcerating people.

This includes but is not limited to ending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, ending sweeps of unhoused people, ending crimeless revocations, and ending money bail and pretrial incarceration in favor of the presumption of release. We support decriminalization efforts, including for sex work.

2. We must decarcerate our jails, prisons, and detention centers.

We expect releases to happen in waves, and they must start with those who are most directly vulnerable to health harms — including older adults, pregnant people, and people with disabilities and chronic illness — as well as those who are primary caregivers for loved ones.

3. We must meet the immediate needs of people who are incarcerated.

While we actively decarcerate, we must ensure that those who are still inside get their health needs met and are able to stay fully connected to their social support network. This includes but is not limited to ensuring proper access to hygiene materials and eliminating fees for phone calls and copays for medical visits.

4. We must invest in the assets that make our communities healthy.

As we divest from jails, prisons, detention centers, and policing, we must invest in health-affirming resources, such as robust health care, affordable housing, living wages, quality schools, environmental justice, and adequate transportation.

Now is not the time for political fights. It is the time for action.

Bringing the power of public health to campaigns and movements for a just society

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