For Immediate Release: May 13, 2020
Contact: Debra Robbin, Executive Director; Hema Sarang-Sieminski, Policy Director; Toni Troop, Communications Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Talking points and other background information following statement
Release Some People in Prisons, Jails, and Detention Centers to Protect Community Health from COVID-19
As advocates for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, Jane Doe Inc. calls for the prompt release of certain groups of people incarcerated in Massachusetts to reduce the rampant spread of COVID-19 and to protect all survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including those who are in jails, prison or detention facilities. We join a growing number of national sexual and domestic violence coalitions in calling for survivor-centered and public health-informed releases to safeguard community health and further racial equity. Our work at the intersections of gender-based violence and racial equity amidst this pandemic compels us to address the needs of people who are incarcerated as a matter of basic human rights, public health, and safety.
Our advocacy on behalf of sexual and domestic violence survivors has taught us that we can only collectively be as safe or well as our most vulnerable community members. This pandemic has laid bare the deep social inequities that regularly threaten the lives of people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQQI+ individuals, and the homeless. Today, we integrate into this commitment an understanding of the impact of systemic violence on the dignity and well-being of some of the most vulnerable in our communities– people in jails, prisons, and detention centers.
At this time, there are over 14,000 individuals in MA in prisons, jails, and ICE detention centers who are at severe risk due to high infection rates, inadequate access to medical care, supplies for basic hygiene, and preventive health measures. MCI-Framingham, a women’s prison holding approximately 450 women currently has at least 71 reported infections and has emerged as a hotspot for the virus.
Due to the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane Doe Inc. supports the release of the following individuals under the conditions set forth below:
- people in pre-trial detention held on bail and technical violations of probation who do not pose a specific threat to public safety (Evaluation to include a screening for whether sexual or domestic violence was a factor in the initial arrest)
- people in jails and prisons with less than six months left of their sentence when reviewed on a case-by-case basis with assessment of rehabilitation, unique needs of the incarcerated person and/or the victim with a presumption against the release of those confined due to crimes related to sexual or domestic violence
- people in prisons, jails, or immigration detention centers who are older than 50 years old with medical conditions that put them at high risk according to the Center for Disease Control who do not pose a specific threat to public safety
- people in prisons, jails, or immigration detention centers who are the primary caretakers of children, older adults, and people with disabilities who do not pose a specific threat to public safety
We understand that question of how to evaluate who is and who is not a threat to public safety is complex. Outcomes can vary depending on whose voices are included in making those evaluations and the racial, gender, and cultural biases implicit in such decision-making. We bear witness to the reality that people of color are targeted for incarceration at disproportionate rates.
And, for survivors who have resorted to finding a measure of safety from the criminal legal system, the prospect of the release of someone who has caused them harm is deeply traumatic. For these reasons, JDI strongly advocates for an approach to this evaluation that 1) uses evidence-based approaches to assessing risk of inflicting further domestic or sexual harm 2) includes input from victim services agencies in the design of evaluation criteria and 3) considers the unique needs of the incarcerated individual and any individual they may have harmed.
We also call for immediate attention to conditions that will support safety, re-entry, and long-term sustainability:
- Victims of sexual and domestic violence need time to make necessary safety planning decisions surrounding the release of someone who caused them harm. Advanced notice of release must be provided in the same manner and timeframes expected by victims of crime registered to receive such updates as set forth in 803 CMR 9.09.
- A re-entry plan and places for re-entering individuals to go, with an overall state commitment to invest in re-entry, now and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. We urge the Commonwealth to invest in housing for those who are re-entering and invest in housing, healthcare, and small businesses and community organizations in communities most impacted by mass incarceration.
- Robust survivor advocacy and safety planning – both for survivors in the community worried about the release of a person who has caused them harm, and incarcerated survivors being released into unsafe circumstances without adequate resources.
- Broader and expeditious exercise of clemency powers, parole, medical parole, and other humanitarian provisions that will reduce the population of those confined to prisons or jails in Massachusetts over time.
- Improvement of conditions for those who remain incarcerated through widespread access to testing, proper medical care, free access to soap and PPE, and means to practice social distancing without prolonged lockdown.
JDI has and always will center survivors – all survivors – in our advocacy efforts. Studies consistently show that the vast majority of women and transgender people who are incarcerated have survived sexual abuse, domestic violence and/or trafficking in their lifetime. Because men who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence often do not disclose their survivorship, the rates of victimization among men in prison are largely unknown but anecdotally high.
Reducing the population of individuals living in prisons, jails or detention centers in Massachusetts is fundamental to JDIs commitment to racial equity and social justice. We ask that the Commonwealth take immediate action to attend to the safety, health, and wellbeing of all of its residents by releasing some people who are in prisons, jails, and/or detention centers in Massachusetts.
This statement was developed with extensive input from JDI’s Policy Committee. We drew from the approaches used by Domestic and Sexual Violence Coalitions in Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Vermont among others in developing our voice on this issue. We welcome your comments and questions about this statement and are here to support you in talking to your community partners about JDI’s position on the release of some people who are in in prisons, jails, or detention centers.
Below are relevant policy and practice citations plus statements supporting this position.
JDI has taken this position because we believe that all people deserve a life free of violence and abuse. All of our communities deserve accountability, healing, and restoration.
Relevant Cases and Proposed Legislation:
Stephen Foster & others v. Carol Mici, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction & others, SJC-12935 (May 2020) (This Complaint seeks the release of sentenced and civilly committed people who by virtue of their age or medical condition are at imminent risk of serious illness or death if infected by COVID-19) https://www.mass.gov/doc/sjc-12935-class-action-complaint
Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, 484 Mass. 431, 445 (2020) (SJC held that a “a reduction in the number of people who are held in custody is necessary” and authorized release of certain pre-trial detainees) For more information: https://www.wbur.org/news/2020/04/03/sjc-prisoners-emergency-petition-ruling
An Act Regarding Decarceration and COVID-19 H.4652 – Click here for fact sheet
Talking Points plus citations:
Many survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking are currently being held in Massachusetts detention centers, jails, and prisons.
- Survived and Punished: https://survivedandpunished.org/quick-statistics/
People of color and people in poverty are routinely and disproportionately targeted for incarceration for crimes that others are not.
- Center For American Progress: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2018/06/05/451647/mass-incarceration-stress-black-infant-mortality/
- Bias in Policing and COVID-19: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/nypd-distancing-arrests-many-non-whites-at-times-violently/2407586/
As victim advocates, we know that prisons aren’t separate from society – real people live there, work there, and visit there. The prison structure is ripe for the fast spread of a pandemic. Steps must be taken to address this public health risk while also addressing the safety needs of survivors and their children.
We can BOTH appreciate the positive impact of good relationships we have built with system partners such as law enforcement and state agencies (though high-risk team work, civilian police advocate roles, court advocacy, participation in state-level task forces and more) AND challenge aspects of these systems that cause harm to historically-oppressed survivors and communities. We invite the opportunity for conversation to make system responses better for all survivors.
Two things are needed right now to protect the safety and well-being of communities across Massachusetts
- Release of some people currently being held in Massachusetts detention centers, jails, and prisons; AND
- Immediate steps to create conditions that will support safety and re-entry, including the development of protocols for release that include input form victim advocates
Long-term, all people need access to affordable housing, health care, and money to meet their basic needs. The safety and well-being of our communities depends on this.
The vast majority of incarcerated women and transgender people have been victims of severe domestic violence, sexual violence, and trafficking, often endured over a lifetime. Stats are less available on the history of victimization of men who are incarcerated, but severe trauma among men in prison is a reality as well.
Many survivors of ongoing abuse who have been arrested for violence, including those who used violence in self-defense; used violence for some other reason; or did not use violence and were wrongly arrested.
Many survivors committed crimes because an abusive partner forced or coerced them to do so.
The release of some people who have committed non-violent crimes is a necessary step to ensure that institutionalized racism and economic hardship don’t once again cause irreparable harm by exposing them to the increased risk of coronavirus while incarcerated.
Women of color and transgender people are significantly over-represented in the prison population. Many are survivors, like Ky Peterson, Marissa Alexander, and so many more.
Hearing about the release of some incarcerated people has been terrifying for many survivors of abuse. We can support programs in accessing accurate information, help, and support to answer the questions survivors may have about release. The MA Victim Bill of Rights applies to all victims of crime. You have the right to find out 1) if the person you are concerned about is set for release b) when they will be released, etc.
Survivors can contact your local domestic violence or sexual assault program for support and help planning for your safety and well-being. You are not alone. Help is available.
JDI (https://janedoe.org/findhelp), the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233) or visit https://www.thehotline.org/help/ (chat or call) and the National Sexual Assault Hotline (https://www.rainn.org/) are available 24/7 to talk with you about the very real trauma you may be experiencing.
Criminal interventions remain an important option for the safety of those experiencing sexual and domestic violence. We cannot, however, rely on them as the only option for ending abuse. The time is now for MA to expand the range of options available for people to find safety and justice, and to prevent future violence.