What's at Stake
Decarceration has always been an emergency, a life and death proposition, but COVID-19 makes this effort intensely urgent. The ACLU has been working with our partners to litigate for the rights of those who are incarcerated and cannot protect themselves because of the policies of the institutions in which they are jailed.
You are likely reading this from self-isolation in your home. Now imagine if someone sick with COVID-19 came into your home and sealed the doors and windows behind them. That is what the Oakdale federal detention centers have just done to the over 1,800 human beings currently detained there, where a COVID-19 outbreak is rampant, social distancing is impossible, and no one detained can leave.
Prisons are fundamentally incapable of implementing the recommendations of public health experts to reduce the spread of the virus, and incarcerated people are already dying nationwide as a result. Further, prisons are not sealed off from the world outside them. By their nature, people cycle in and out constantly—from correctional and medical staff, to families and attorneys, to those serving short sentences or finishing longer ones. This dynamic was occurring before BOP’s lockdown, and possibly-infected-but-asymptomatic employees are still going home and returning to Oakdale even during the lockdown’s pendency. This allows COVID-19 to spread from Oakdale to the community and from the community to Oakdale. Failing to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 endangers not only those within the institution, but the entire community.
We brought this case on behalf of a class of incarcerated individuals at the Oakdale facility, and requested immediate release of the Petitioners and Class Members, coupled with appropriate support and conditions upon release, as informed by public health expertise.