Please join our ad-hoc group of Indigenous people and allies to urge your Members of Congress to take appropriate actions to protect the lives of our Indigenous loved ones – and all people – living in federal prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are over 140,000 people currently incarcerated in 110 federal prisons under the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) - making them the single largest jailer in the U.S. - and yet the BOP has been uncoordinated and unresponsive to the public health crisis of COVID-19. Their existing policies aren’t adequate, and imprisoned loved-ones tell us that they don’t adequately follow the policies they do have. While some states and localities have begun to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in prisons, the federal system lags behind. People with serious health issues are being denied access to medical facilities, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is only available sporadically, and the physical structures themselves are not designed for social distancing or humane forms of isolation. Sometimes, people who are sick with COVID-19 are held in bleak solitary confinement, because no other provisions are possible in overcrowded facilities.
Already, there are more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 in the federal prison system and over 49 deaths. Indigenous people are incarcerated in federal prisons at a rate 38% higher than the national average. Very recently, we lost Andrea Circle Bear, a Cheyenne River Lakota mother, to COVID-19, shortly after she gave birth in a federal prison.
Data from the Prison Policy Initiative demonstrates that more than 55% of people in federal prison are there for drug- or immigration-related offenses, and only 8% of crimes were categorized as “violent.” Under no circumstances were any BOP prisoners intended to receive a death sentence, and yet deaths are beginning to mount with the rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons - especially with the willful neglect of the BOP towards people who are incarcerated without access to Personal Protective Equipment, space to practice social distancing, or even basic cleaning and hygiene supplies in some cases.
Please send a letter below to urge your U.S. Members of Congress to pressure the BOP to follow its own policies and adopt better ones. People with risk factors should be released, and new admissions to federal prisons should be significantly reduced. Those with less than one year remaining on their sentences should be released (with home confinement if need be). And conditions should be safe and humane for those still left behind in prison.
“None of our carceral institutions are prepared,” says Sandra Freeman, civil rights attorney in Denver. “This is clear from talking to multiple prisoners in state and federal facilities in multiple states. The current legislation and Attorney General guidance for individualized consideration will not allow people to be released quickly enough to prevent a parade of horrors inside of the prisons.”