Governors, Mayors, and Sheriffs Must Reform Jail and Detention Practices During COVID-19

Leaders have a moral obligation to protect the millions of lives at risk

Contact: Rafael Medina, [email protected], 202.869.0390

WASHINGTON – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and over 150 other groups called upon the National Governors Association (NGA), U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), and the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) to act immediately to help stem the tide of Covid-19. In letters sent to the three organizations, the groups urge them to use their authority to reasonably release people from prisons and jails to protect the lives of the more than 2.2 million people nationwide who are currently incarcerated, including more than 600,000 individuals in local jails.

The groups also offer guidelines designed to keep incarcerated individuals, correctional officers, and their communities as safe, healthy, and virus-free as possible during this time of national and global crisis, including:

  • Reduce jail admissions to the maximum extent possible.
  • Release the vast majority of individuals who are currently incarcerated in jails.
  • For those individuals who are released on probation, urge the modification of supervision practices so as to support family bonds and health-related exigencies.
  • Immediately halt new admissions to juvenile detention and correctional facilities and initiate the removal of youth from juvenile detention and correctional facilities.
  • For those individuals who remain incarcerated, ensure proper hygiene and access to medical care.
  • For those individuals who remain incarcerated, facilitate communications home.
  • For everyone who has incurred debt and/or debt-related penalties, end the financial hardship associated with these debts and penalties.

Each day, people are booked into and released from correctional facilities like prisons and jails, while correctional officers, vendors, and other staff cycle in and out. Worse, the enclosed nature of jails and prisons, as well as the difficulties of maintaining proper hygiene inside these facilities, make them perfect breeding grounds for COVID-19.

Access to clean water and showers is limited, and many are forced to share a single bathroom. Hand sanitizer is often banned, and handcuffs can prevent people from covering their mouths when they cough. Moreover, the prison population is more likely to have chronic health conditions. All of these circumstances create a virus tinderbox that threatens all incarcerated individuals and correctional employees, as well as their families and communities at large.

Though experts are recommending to physically separate individuals who have been infected from those who are still well, this is nearly, if not entirely, impossible in correctional facilities.

The letter addressed to the NGA includes specific recommendations to address these challenges — for the safety and welfare of all of our communities — including:

  • Dramatically reduce the prison and/or jail populations by using all available powers, including the powers of clemency, furlough, parole, and compassionate release.
  • Advocate the maximum reduction in jail admissions by working with local officials.
  • Advocate that local officials release the vast majority of individuals who are currently incarcerated in jails by working with local officials.

The NGA letter is available here.
The USCM letter is available here.
The NSA letter is available here.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit