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Advocacy groups release plan to prevent COVID-19 outbreak at correctional facilities

The REFORM Alliance and medical and justice system experts have a list of recommendations.

A coalition of criminal justice reform groups has come out with a list of recommendations to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus within jails and prisons.

The plan has five prongs and goes by the acronym “SAFER.” The recommendations:

— Suspend jail for technical violations; suspend probation office visits and payment of fines

— Adopt smart alternatives to incarceration

— Free medical visits and treatment, hand sanitizer, soap, and protective gear

— Extra precautions for guards and staff

— Release elderly and vulnerable to home confinement

“As our country takes measures to protect against coronavirus, we can’t afford to forget about the millions of people under the control of our criminal justice system,” said Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer at REFORM Alliance.

“People in prisons, jails, or under community supervision are more at risk of contracting and spreading the virus, given their age, underlying health conditions, and close contact to each others. Protecting these individuals from coronavirus is not just a moral obligation, but necessary to preserve the health and safety of our communities.”

The plan was developed by the REFORM Alliance in consultation with medical and justice system experts. Other groups signing on to the effort include the American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Justice Action Network, National Urban League, R Street Institute and Right on Crime.

American Conservative Union General Counsel David Safavian added, “It is in the public’s interest to ensure our prisons don’t become hot spots for the coronavirus. Developed with input from experts across the health care spectrum, the SAFER plan would be a significant step to mitigate that threat. The goal is not only to protect prisoners, but corrections officers and staff as well.

The groups announced the plan on Monday, a day before an employee at the Marion Correctional Institution’s Work Camp in the Ocala area tested positive for the new coronavirus.

In the wake of the positive, Families Against Mandatory Minimums urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a Special Session focused on prison safety.

“COVID-19 poses a grave threat to prisoners and corrections professionals,” wrote Greg Newburn, FAMM Florida director, in a letter to the Governor. “Minimizing that threat requires giving the Department of Corrections important tools they currently lack. Giving the Department these tools requires legislative action, and legislative action requires a special session.”

Along with the SAFER rollout, the REFORM Alliance launched a petition for signees to ask officials to take preventive action to protect inmates from the virus.

The advocacy group has also created a webpage for residents of all states to contact elected officials asking them to take steps to prevent an outbreak at correctional facilities.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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