Statement from Vera President Nicholas Turner on President Biden’s COVID-19 Strategy in Prisons and Detention Facilities

The Vera Institute of Justice is encouraged to see that President Biden and his Administration’s COVID-19 response strategy rightfully addresses the need to distribute vaccines to facility staff and incarcerated people in jails, prisons, and detention centers. The COVID-19 response strategy also includes an Executive Order to require the Bureau of Prisons and ICE detention facilities to release data on the spread of COVID-19 in facilities and use federal grant programs to create incentives for state and local facilities to adhere to public health guidance

This important action results from a broad coalition of voices who called on America’s leadership to ensure an equitable COVID-19 response that addresses the health needs of every member of our community. From the beginning of the pandemic, people who are incarcerated or detained and those who work in jails, prisons, and detention centers have been at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Since March, when the first known COVID-19-related death in a correctional facility was reported, there have been at least 355,780 cases reported among incarcerated people. This number is also most likely an undercount, given poor data collection and transparency in correctional settings. In immigration detention centers, Vera’s analysis indicates that ICE’s current reports do not reflect the true scope of the COVID-19 spread in detention.

Now the Biden-Harris Administration must move quickly to fulfill its promise. Our public health needs and the rights and safety of our communities is at stake. We also urge the Administration to be bold and release people from custody and divert others from entering detention to directly address overcrowding and prioritize incarcerated individuals and facility staff’s safety.

About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

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