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The Daily Appeal
By Vaidya Gullapalli (@vgullap)

What you'll read today

  • The federal Bureau of Prisons announces a 14-day lockdown

  • A ‘failure to appreciate the public health disaster unfolding before our eyes,’ says Rikers’s chief medical officer

  • New York Democrats to ‘gut’ bail reform as part of budget, say public defenders

  • Most people support government action to house the unhoused

  • A rarely used power could free prisoners in Pennsylvania. But the governor is not using it

  • Halfway house residents describe ‘a scary situation’ as coronavirus sweeps the U.S.

Stories From Around the Country

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Daily Appeal will offer a roundup of stories about the effect on marginalized and vulnerable people, and their struggle for safety and well-being.

The federal Bureau of Prisons announces a 14-day lockdown: Twenty-nine people in federal custody and 30 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to figures released yesterday by the Bureau of Prisons, and the number of people actually infected is assumed to be much higher. One person incarcerated in federal prison in Louisiana, Patrick Jones, died Saturday from the disease. Of the approximately 167,000 people in federal custody, 10,000 are over the age of 60, and public health experts and other experts have called on President Trump, the rest of the executive branch, and Congress to act quickly to release the most vulnerable people. Instead, the Bureau of Prisons has announced that, starting today, all people in federal custody will be confined to their cells or quarters for at least 14 days in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. [Josh Gerstein / Politico] On Twitter, Solitary Watch characterized it as “for 2 weeks, 175,000 people will be put in solitary confinement.”

A ‘failure to appreciate the public health disaster unfolding before our eyes,’ says Rikers’s chief medical officer:  Ross McDonald, the chief medical officer of New York City’s correctional health system, assailed the city’s five district attorneys Monday on Twitter for their criticisms of the release of some people held in city jails in response to medical and public health concerns. In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the district attorneys sought assurances that the city’s jail system “is capable of appropriately managing the health needs” of those who are still in custody. McDonald, who has called for large-scale releases as an appropriate response to the crisis, responded that despite the heroic efforts of correctional health staff, the crisis has and will deepen. As of Monday, 167 incarcerated people and 137 corrections staff members and health workers had tested positive for the virus. More than 800 people are in quarantine at the Rikers Island jail complex. Social distancing is impossible for the rest. A report by the Legal Aid Society found that the rate of infection at Rikers was nearly nine times that in New York City, the worst affected city in the world. [Meagan Flynn / Washington Post]

New York Democrats to ‘gut’ bail reform as part of budget, say public defenders: Public defenders in New York City warn that the changes sought by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Democrats would go even further than merely reversing bail reforms enacted last year and would subject tens of thousands of New Yorkers to pretrial detention. 

Most people support government action to house the unhoused: In a new national survey, four-fifths of respondents say they support governments using unoccupied buildings and housing to house people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic. (In an opinion piece for the San Francisco Examiner, sociologists Chris Herring and Neil Gong point out that San Francisco has the resources and legal authority to do this.) The survey, conducted March 18 by Data for Progress, was of 2,507 likely voters from across the country. A majority of survey respondents, including a majority of Republicans, expressed support for a number of policies that would provide housing for the unhoused right now. A report released by Data for Progress and the Justice Collaborative summarizes the survey results and authors Sterling Johnson and Leo Beletesky explain the public health and social justice imperatives for taking action. (The Daily Appeal and The Appeal are editorially independent projects of the Justice Collaborative.) [Fighting the Coronavirus & Protecting the Unhoused

Stories From The Appeal

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in Philadelphia in 2018. [Mark Makela/Getty Images]

A Rarely Used Power Could Free Prisoners in Pennsylvania. But the Governor Is Not Using It. The Office of General Counsel determined that the governor could likely use reprieves to release vulnerable people from prison to control COVID-19’s spread, but the office is advising against it, according to internal emails obtained by The Appeal. [Joshua Vaughn]

Halfway House Residents Describe ‘A Scary Situation’ As Coronavirus Sweeps The U.S. ‘It is progressively getting worse, exponentially worse,’ a resident of one halfway house told The Appeal as part of a survey of facilities. ‘Something is going to happen and it’s not going to be good.’ [Lauren Gill]

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The Daily Appeal is a publication of The Justice Collaborative, a project of Tides Advocacy

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