Wyoming Response to COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails Gets a Failing Report from ACLU, Prison Policy Initiative

Affiliate: ACLU of Wyoming
June 30, 2020 1:00 pm

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WYOMING – Wyoming’s response to COVID-19 in its jails and prisons has earned the state a failing grade from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Policy Initiative, according to a recently released report.

The new 50-state report, entitled “Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons,” shows that, despite having ample time and information to take the steps necessary to heed the warnings of public health experts, North Dakota has refused to adequately address the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses in jails and prisons.

“Mass incarceration was a major public health crisis before the outbreak of COVID-19, but this pandemic has pushed it past the breaking point,” said Antonio Serrano, advocacy manager for the ACLU of Wyoming. “As cases of COVID-19 surge, jails and prisons remain a breeding ground for the disease. By choosing to ignore that fact, our state officials are knowingly placing the lives of our most vulnerable at risk.”

The report evaluates states’ responses to the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails using the following criteria:

  • Did/does the state department of corrections provide testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) to correctional staff and the incarcerated population?
  • Did/does the state reduce county jail populations and state prison populations in response to the spread of the pandemic?
  • Did the governor issue an executive order — or the department of corrections issue a directive — accelerating the release from state prisons of medically vulnerable individuals and/or those near the end of their sentence?
  • Did/does the state publish regularly updated, publicly available data on COVID-19 in the state prison system?

This report not only highlights that callous disregard but also provides actionable steps for those same governments to take immediate steps to save the lives of people in jails and prisons.

“Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons” comes at a time when COVID-19 is still decimating jails and prisons. Millions of people leave jails and prisons every year, each person serving as a vector to outside communities, as documented in a recent ACLU report. Too many facilities are still responding ineffectively in a way that further undermines public health and basic human rights. The assessments in the report offer guidance as to what states can still do to save lives now and in the case of future waves of COVID-19 — or future pandemics. There is a key lesson to be learned: States must downsize the footprint of their criminal legal system for the sake of public health and racial justice.

A PDF of the report is attached and can be found here.

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