In NY Daily News, Gupta, Austin, and Krinsky Call on Trump and Barr to Address COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons

Contact: Rafael Medina, [email protected], 202.869.0390

WASHINGTON – In an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, Vanita Gupta, Roy L. Austin, Jr., and Miriam Aroni Krinsky underscore how misguided half-measures from President Trump and Attorney General William Barr are potentially condemning to death thousands of people in America who are at grave risk from COVID-19 in federal prisons. The authors call for the president to take executive action and remove vulnerable individuals who live and work in federal prisons from harm’s way.

Vanita Gupta is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division; Roy L. Austin, Jr. is a partner at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, LLP and a former deputy assistant attorney general, assistant United States attorney and trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice; and Miriam Aroni Krinsky is a former assistant United States attorney, former executive director of the Los Angeles Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, and the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.

In recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in jails and prisons across the country. Although this administration has engaged in some efforts to control the spread of the virus, cases continue to emerge, many of which will result in death if officials do not take urgent action.

The op-ed states:

“The clock is ticking, and there is no time to waste. We’ve learned from the Rikers Island outbreak that once one person behind bars is infected, the virus spreads aggressively — at eight times the rate it does in the community. COVID-19 safety precautions (washing hands, clean spaces, and social distancing) are simply not possible in custodial settings.

“This is urgent, Mr. President. People who are incarcerated are disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19. One third of federal inmates have pre-existing medical conditions and roughly 10,000 are over age 60. And every day, correctional officers, health-care workers and others enter and leave, potentially carrying COVID-19 back to their loved ones. The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn alone holds 1,700 individuals with over 150 people coming and going every week. The rapid spread of COVID-19 in these facilities threatens all of our communities.”

The op-ed continues:

People in our federal prisons aren’t disposable. Leaving thousands of elderly and medically vulnerable people behind bars fearing for their lives isn’t justice; it’s inhumane. We all lose, Mr. President, if this is our response.”

The full text of the op-ed 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