OPEN LETTER TO GOV. BELL EDWARDS
ON COVID-19 AND INCARCERATED POPULATIONS
The spread of the incurable and potentially fatal COVID-19 Coronavirus in the United States has accelerated since the first cases were reported. Currently, Governor Bel Edwards and Mayor Cantrell have initiated measures and policies to limit people to people contact in an effort to slow down the spread of this potentially fatal and incurable disease.
The Louisiana Stop Solitary Confinement Coalition, along with other community advocates, are calling on the Governor to begin implementing policies to safeguard these uniquely vulnerable populations. In particular, those being held in lockdown. In a March 16 letter to the Governor, #18 asks that the state "Consider avoiding lockdowns although corrections staff may be tempted to reflexively cut off visitation and increase the use of solitary confinement to control the spread of COVID-19, any system or facility-wide lock-down or interruptions in regular activities, such as exercise or visits and phone calls with families or attorneys, should be based solely on the best science available and should be as limited as possible in scope and duration to ensure the health and safety of individuals in custody”. Recently, all visits have been suspended at Louisiana prisons as advocates warn of coronavirus spreading behind bars. In San Quentin getting the flu has landed inmates in solitary confinement. Things like hand sanitizer can be considered contraband in some cases. It is not a matter of if but when the coronavirus will enter prisons and jails, according to health experts. The consequences of that eventuality could be devastating.
“Prolonged lockdowns can inflict substantial, serious mental harm on incarcerated populations, exacerbating feelings of stress and anxiety amongst those in custody who are deprived of regular contact with their friends and family. International experts consider prolonged solitary confinement to be torture". Solitary confinement is torture and should be prohibited. Prolonged solitary confinement causes significant mental harm and places people at risk of even more devastating future harm. These harms may be permanent and persist even after one is released from solitary confinement.
“Finally, when locked down or held in solitary confinement, people may not be able to alert staff promptly if they experience symptoms of COVID-19, increasing the risk of contagion". In the passing days, government officials have said that defeating COVID-19 will take a community effort. We agree. It is important for all of us to realize that we cannot forget our incarcerated community members on lockdown. Ignoring the threat that COVID-19 poses to incarcerated populations is ignoring the threat this poses to us all. The Justice Collaborative posted a Fact Sheet on Practices to avoid in jail as we deal with COVID-19.
In these uncertain times, we cannot forget ANY community members' health safety. In the letter below, we ask Governor Bel Edwards to remember his promise to protect the health and safety of all Louisianans.