Criminal justice reform organization Just Leadership USA on Tuesday (June 23) launched the #JustUs campaign, described by the group in an emailed statement as “the first-ever nationwide call for revolutionary, transformative and immediate national and state-based legislation that protects incarcerated populations during any type of major crisis, emergency, or natural disaster.” The group explained in their statement that this campaign is crucial because, “while state emergency plans include labor by the detained, including digging graves in New York and putting out wildfires in California, there are little to no emergency management plans to save their lives.”

As the United States continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases, which is particularly threatening to prison populations, the #JustUs letter-writing campaign is calling on supporters to email legislators and demand the immediate decarceration of the country through specific federal and state-based policy recommendations. 

According to JLUSA’s emailed statement, the campaign’s policy recommendations “require all pipelines of the criminal justice system—from courts to jails to law enforcement—to act in sync, to release people and save human lives.”

The recommendations include:

  • Provide a triage of experts in the field of emergency management and public health to create plans that govern every emerging disaster. 
  • Empower the Department of Corrections to act without legislative or judicial intervention when a pandemic or crisis is declared.
  • Require the Department of Corrections to evacuate when necessary to decarcerate, utilizing public health triage mechanisms according to highest risk, i.e. pregnant women, people with respiratory illnesses, those over 50 and those within two years of release.
  • Demand medical and humane treatment of those remaining, by providing access to the necessary safety precautions and forbidding the use of solitary confinement as a means of meeting those requirements. 
  • Demand immediate stop gap of jail intakes into Department of Corrections custody.
  • Require judges use alternatives to incarceration when possible to avoid detention at all costs.
  • No fee shall force someone to be detained, including cash bail or any past debts.
  • Stop all arrests for technical violations and eliminate in person reporting and drug testing
  • Demand law enforcement cite and release in lieu of arrest.
  • Require a constant network of reentry services to transition people to ensure their success and safety after incarceration.
  • Create an independent oversight mechanism and reporting to legislatures for enforcement and compliance.

“The #JustUs campaign policy recommendations can and should be adopted immediately via Executive Order,” said emergency management professional Dr. Melissa A. Surette (Savilonis) in an emailed statement. “The outreach strategy provided allows for a unified approach, which is important. In the past ten years, I’ve seen various efforts at the local level, but not in sync with one another. The recommendations will provide the platform needed to effect change.”

Click here to join the campaign and to demand that policymakers create an emergency plan to protect vulnerable prison populations.