|Posted:||January 28, 2021 02:09 PM|
|From:||Senator Anthony H. Williams and Sen. Sharif Street, Sen. Nikil Saval|
|To:||All Senate members|
|Subject:||Expanded Eligibility for Medical and Elderly Release to Mitigate COVID-19 in PA’s Prisons|
In the near future, we will be introducing legislation to expand eligibility and improve the process for reprieve of prison sentences for the elderly and infirm during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the beginning of the crisis, and especially since November 2020, the rate of COVID-19 infections has increased dramatically at our state correctional institutions. To date, over 9,200 incarcerated people and 4,065 institutional staff have tested positive for COVID-19. This, in turn, has resulted in 97 deaths for those confined within the prison and sparked possibilities of community spread with prison staff. 20 percent of those deaths have taken place in the first two weeks of 2021, and incarcerated people are dying at a rate three times higher than Pennsylvania at large.
Incarcerated people are among the most marginalized members of our society. They are considered undeserving of basic rights and are often marked throughout their lives -- no matter how good their conduct in prison -- as “criminals.” The COVID-19 pandemic only deepens this marginalization. At a time when hygiene and physical space are public health imperatives, the tight quarters in Pennsylvania’s prisons make social distancing virtually impossible. Trying to overcome these constraints, the Department of Corrections has placed infected individuals in solitary confinement—a punitive measure for people that have done nothing wrong other than being exposed to the virus. Similarly, the dozens of incarcerated people that have died from the virus received a form of capital punishment, to which no judge sentenced them, and for crimes they did not commit.
The Pennsylvania legislature can stop this. In April, Governor Wolf and Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel announced a targeted reprieve effort to protect the lives of inmates who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus given their advanced age or health conditions. Our bill builds on the Governor’s Executive Order to create a streamlined process for identifying and releasing inmates who are not a danger to community safety. It establishes automatic eligibility for all inmates over the age of 65 or with comorbidities which make them especially vulnerable to coronavirus. It then allows those eligible to return home where they can properly protect themselves from COVID-19.
Time is of the essence and the unprecedented deadliness of the virus demands swift, decisive actions. As COVID-19 cases rise throughout the country, it is our responsibility to make sure the most vulnerable people have the means to protect themselves, and by extension, others. This includes both prisoners and correctional staff. Please join us in co-sponsoring this very important legislation.
Introduced as SB549