As we face the COVID-19 crisis, together, in Mississippi and across the United States, it is essential that all government officials follow public health experts' recommendations to help ensure a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all. Any response to this pandemic should be grounded in science and public health, not politics or xenophobia.
The ACLU of Mississippi is watching closely to make sure that the government's response is scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary.
Mass Incarceration/Prison Conditions:
People involved in the criminal justice system face heightened risk of COVID-19 infection. From policing, prosecution and pretrial hearings, to sentencing, confinement, and release, every aspect of the system must come under intense scrutiny for how it responds to this national public health crisis.
On March 16, along with coalitional partners, we sent a letter urging the Governor, State Sheriffs and detention facilities of Mississippi to:
- Ensure the protection of incarcerated people who are housed in close quarters, often in poor health and therefore highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses.
- Develop proactive plans that are grounded in public health, for the prevention and management of COVID-19 in their facilities. Having appropriate, evidence-based plans in place can help prevent an outbreak and minimize its impact if one does occur. Not having one may cost lives.
- Ensure transparency and accuracy of shared information and ground all public statements in science.
- Heed public health experts’ advice and immediately release individuals in detention facilities who are identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as vulnerable, as well as people currently in pretrial detention, to prevent a public health crisis.
By following the recommendations outlined in our letter, state and local officials can create a culture in which transparency, safety, and the health of all people is the paramount concern. The letter can be found here.
On March 20, along with coalitional partners, we sent a letter urging stakeholders in Mississippi’s criminal justice system to:
- Partner with local public health experts in developing informed and immediate actionable steps to ensure that public safety and public health are as protected as possible.
- Cease arrests for low-level offenses and prevent people from unnecessarily entering the criminal justice system.
- Ensure that prisons do not needlessly keep people incarcerated who are especially vulnerable to Covid-19.
- Take actions that reduce the overall burden on the criminal justice system and ensure that people can adhere to recommended health practices.
On April 10, we supported a letter organized by State Prosecutor, Infectious Disease Doctors and Ministers urging the Governor and Prison Commissioner to:
- Review all incarcerated individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Grant conditional medical release to all vulnerable individuals who do not pose a public safety risk to the larger community.
The Clarion Ledger article can be found here.
On April 8, along with coalitional partners, we sent a letter urging the Secretary of State to:
- Widely advertise the extended voter registration deadlines for postponed elections.
The letter can be found here.
On April 13, along with coalitional partners, we sent a letter urging the Secretary of State, Governor and Lt. Governor to:
- Develop proactive plans that are grounded in public health to ensure that people can safely vote during and following pandemic cautionaries. No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote.
The letter can be found here.
We must ensure that people are not deterred from seeking care. ICE has issued a public statement, stating that accessing care and resources will not expose individuals to, or increase the risk of, immigration enforcement.
We must ensure that our most vulnerable are protected and not exposed to the threats of COVID-19. On March 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Interim Guidance for responding to COVID-19 among people experiencing unsheltered homelessness along with guidelines for homeless shelters and other service providers.
We must ensure that the pandemic is not being weaponized to deny access to medically necessary reproductive health care. Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care and should not be delayed. As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical groups have recognized, “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
We must ensure that the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is grounded in science and public health, not xenophobia or racism. Statistics show that people of color are among the most vulnerable communities at risk during the pandemic. Existing disparities in health care, the criminal justice system, and the workforce, among other areas, contribute to this.
To provide meaningful support for Black and Brown communities, a COVID-19 response must address the pervasive racial injustices at the federal, state and local level. This includes collecting and reporting accurate data on rates of infection and outcomes by race, reducing prison and jail populations, removing re-entry barriers, imposing a moratorium on evictions and court fines, fees and related penalties, and ensuring that all eligible voters are able to cast their ballots and have them counted, even if social distancing measures are still in place. The ACLU of Mississippi is working to ensure that the burdens of the outbreak and the government's actions do not unfairly fall on people of color and our most vulnerable communities.
Has the government violated your rights with its action, or inaction, towards Covid-19?
If so, please email the ACLU of Mississippi at email@example.com.