An Open Letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Governors, State Departments of Corrections and Public Safety, Local Jails, Detention Centers, City Officials, Telecommunications Companies and the Media
As directly impacted daughters and sons, who work daily to address the issues children of incarcerated parents face, we are anxious, fearful and quite frankly, extremely daunted by thoughts that our parents in jails, state prisons and federal correctional facilities across the United States are potentially the most vulnerable group to the COVID-19 virus. There are 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States of America. Fifty percent of this incarcerated population are our parents. With information changing hourly on the spread of this pandemic virus, and social distancing not being a reality inside the prison industrial complex, we believe it is necessary for immediate actions to take place to curtail the impact of the virus on all families, including those most affected by mass incarceration.
1. IMMEDIATE CLEMENCY
The immediate granting of CLEMENCY to the most vulnerable population in prison, particularly our elder incarcerated parents and those with preexisting health problems.
- As a preventative measure, we demand the immediate grant of clemency for the most vulnerable population to COVID-19, including our elderly incarcerated parents and those with preexisting health problems who pose no public safety issue and have loving, supportive families desperately awaiting their safe return home, like William Underwood, Miquelle West, Tony Lewis, Orrin Jackson, Corey Evans, Pete Monsanto, and Jerry Vega, to name just a few.
- 25% of the U.S. incarcerated population are elderly incarcerated parents and grandparents.
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the COVID-19 virus pandemic is 10 times deadlier than the seasonal flu. “If you base on the things that we do know, we know that the most vulnerable people in our society right now are those people with the underlying conditions, particularly the elderly.”
- According to data from the Sentencing Project, people age out of criminality and the aging process leads to higher costs of incarceration, primarily due to increased health care needs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are gravely concerned about the wellbeing of our incarcerated elderly parents, grandparents and those with preexisting health problems.
The annual cost of incarceration — generally estimated at about $30,000 per prisoner — can easily double for elderly prisoners, as they require more health resources as they age.
- Upon release, we demand that our most vulnerable population of people in prison, do not encounter any barriers in the reentry process and that certain restrictions are lifted, including Section 8 housing restrictions, the ban on food stamps and immediate release to their families, surpassing halfway house procedures.
2. FREE COMMUNICATIONS
We demand that all federal, state and local prison facilities, along with telecommunications companies that provide services to incarcerated individuals, must immediately supply families with FREE COMMUNICATIONS via phone, email, postage mail, and video conferencing services as a means to mitigate the emotional trauma resulting from the uncertainty of the health and wellbeing of our parents behind bars.
• Telecommunications companies such as AT&T, Verizon,T-Mobile,Sprint and Comcast are playing an important role in helping customers stay connected to their families by offering support to their customers by providing free service, extended data, waived fees, and free international phone calls to their customers most severely impacted worldwide by the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
- We demand that all federal, state and local prison facilities allot otfreephonecalls,postagemail, email and video conferencing to parents behind bars no, matter their children’s age.
- The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), in light of the pandemic, allotted an additional 200 phone call minutes to the existing 300 monthly phone call minutes, totaling 500 minutes per month for people in prison. These additional 200 minutes are not free of charge and cost additional money. That presents a challenge to children and families who do not have the economic means during a national crisis to allot more funding towards jail and prison calls.
- The emotional, physical and mental anxiety of not being able to hug, touch or see our parents, coupled with the commodization of remaining connected to them via communication services is inhumane, harmful and increases the strain of parental separation for children with parents in prison.
- Studies have consistently found that incarcerated people who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.
3. FREE MOBILE NOTIFICATION SYSTEM
We demand implementation of a FREE MOBILE NOTIFICATION SYSTEM, supplemented by email and web announcements for those without smartphones, sent from all BOP, state prisons, local jails and detention centers across the United States to alert and inform children and families with incarcerated loved ones, about their COVID-19 pandemic response plan, prison lockdowns, visiting policies, and the healthcare services being provided to incarcerated people during this national crisis.
- With visits halted for at least the next 30 days in the prison systems across the nation, the implementation of a FREE push mobile notification system would help to reduce the stress and strain for worrisome children about the well-being of their parents behind bars.
- A FREE push mobile notification system would provide time-sensitive information directly to family members of the incarcerated, such as emergency alerts, real-time updates, prison closures, lock-downs and other time-critical information.
- These FREE notifications would help keep families informed, up-to-date and alleviate unnecessary travel cost during these uncertain times that caregivers and families incur to ensure that our families remain connected.
- We demand that immediate family members of incarcerated people with healthcare issues receive a FREE mobile individualized notification that can help keep their children, family and loved ones up-to-date with personalized critical information.
4. SAFE & SANITARY PROTECTIVE MEASURES
We demand that aggressive safe and sanitary environmental protective measures be taken now by federal, state and local prison facilities across the nation to ensure the basic needs, healthcare and survival of the incarcerated population are immediately met.
- We demand mandatory testing of all BOP, state prisons, local jails and detention centers staff, clergy, contractors, vendors, etc. With family visits cancelled, the prison facility staffpose the biggest threat to the vulnerable prison population.
- Correctional facilities nationwide must consider immediate safe and sanitary environmental protective measures for the vulnerable population of incarcerated people we house in our jails, state prisons and federal correctional facilities.
- We demand that BOP, state prisons, local jails and detention centers provide free of charge medical care, soap and comprehensive sanitation and cleaning of facilities and other safety measures as recommended by the CDC, including the exclusion from contraband of hand sanitizer for all those who remain incarcerated.
- We demand the accountability of all federal, state and local prison facilities to ensure that they will provide our incarcerated parents with the basic human needs, including food, access to hygiene products, sanitary living conditions, and proper medical care for the entire duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.
WE GOT US NOW is, the first of its kind, a national nonprofit (501c3) organization built by, led by and about children with incarcerated parents. Led by Ebony Underwood, we function as a nonpartisan advocacy organization amplifying the issues children and young adults with incarcerated parents face due to mass incarceration.
Our mission is simple, action + advocacy:
- ACTION: We Got Us Now works to engage, educate, elevate and empower the millions of marginalized, historically invisible population of children and young adults who have experienced a parent behind bars through our ACTIONIST leadership program*;
- ADVOCACY: We Got Us Now through the use of digital narratives, safe + inclusive spaces and advocacy led campaigns works to ensure our voices are at the forefront of strategic initiatives, practices and policies that will help to keep our families connected, create fair sentencing and end mass incarceration.
*The first cohort of our 2020 We Got Us Now leadership program is facilitated by directly impacted subject matter experts, Jasmine Fernandez — BK, NY and K.N. Ebrahimi — OAK, our 10 ACTIONIST are:
Alexandria Pech — AZ | Jamira Burley — PH | Bree Anderson — NOLA
Tiffany Brown — DET | Tony Lewis, Jr — DC | Amani Garcia — NYC |
TeAna Taylor — NY | Shalei Heflin — TX | Paradyse Oakley — LA |
Ashley Jackson — NC
Nkechi Taifa is the convener of the Justice Roundtable. An expert in the field of criminal justice, she is President and CEO of The Taifa Group, LLC.