COVID-19 Issue Spotlight: Decarceration & Prison Reform
Decarceration & Prison Reform
Incarcerated folks are among the most vulnerable members of our community in this crisis. With over 3,000 individuals currently being held across Maine’s state prisons and jails, the prospect of a COVID-19 outbreak is extremely worrying. This week, we’re excited to share the ways our grantee partners are working to protect incarcerated Mainers and advocate for their needs and rights during this crisis.
Maine Youth Justice
Maine Youth Justice (MYJ) continues to organize for the closure of Long Creek Youth Development Center where over 30 youth are in extreme isolation and risk during COVID-19. They are calling on Governor Mills to immediately release a plan to transition young people out of the prison and to ensure their health, safety and welfare in the meantime. Maine Youth Justice is also part of a coalition calling for decarceration across all county jails and prisons in the state.
Check out inspiring videos of MYJ organizers and allies calling on the Governor to close Long Creek.
Maine Inside Out
In recent weeks, Maine Inside Out staff have organized a heightened outreach plan to ensure individual contact with each MIO member in the community during COVID-19. Staff and participants have used video conferencing, messaging and calls to check in on needs, offering tele-mentoring and direct pathways to concrete resources. MIO members have responded with requests for housing and shelter, food distribution, employment questions, case management, and general human connection. MIO staff have responded rapidly to these urgent requests, successfully connecting participants to what they need.
Protect Incarcerated Mainers
Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition
In a letter to Governor Janet Mills and Commissioner Randall Liberty, Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition (MPAC) called for specific action items to protect friends, neighbors, and loved ones in Maine’s prisons that include:
- The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) designates incarcerated individuals and prison employees as Tier One individuals for the purpose of expedited COVID-19 testing;
- All common surfaces be disinfected frequently throughout the day;
- Personal protective equipment, specifically medical-grade masks, be issued to all incarcerated people;
- Designated family members be notified immediately upon suspicion of COVID-19 exposure and given daily updates on the status of their loved one;
- The Governor provides commutations as appropriate and uses her emergency powers to immediately release medically-compromised, elderly, and pregnant prisoners in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections;
- Inmates with 12 months or less remaining on their sentences be released immediately or receive expedited community confinement releases when appropriate.
Additionally, we encourage you to read this letter shared by Representative Rachel Talbot Ross on behalf of her and 21 other Maine Legislators identifying health and human safety concerns surrounding Maine’s incarcerated population. Their calls to action center around 1.) universal testing for correctional facilities; 2.) the enforcement of consistent staff use of masks and other personal protective equipment; and 3.) compassionate release of inmates who do not pose a public safety threat or further harm to victims. The Maine State Prison Branch of the N.A.A.C.P. has called for similar action in a letter to the Warden and the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections. For more information about these efforts, reach out the Representative Rachel Talbot Ross at rachel.talbotross@legislature.
Portland Outright is part of a statewide network working to reduce the threat of COVID-19 in Maine’s prisons and jails through significant reduction of the incarcerated population, protections for those who remain inside, and re-entry support for those returning to community. Outright is also tracking COVID-19 related criminalization in LGBTQ+ communities, while providing ongoing advocacy, support, and resources to young people statewide. “When the state creates scarcity–in services, in resources, in care–there have always been community networks that pick up the slack. We draw power from and model our work on generations of queer and trans people living in the margins, who created deep abundance and rich networks of support from very little. It is in this tradition that we understand youth organizing as an act of love.”
What You Can Do
SIGN: Tell Gov. Mills: #ReleaseOurLovedOnes while ensuring anyone remaining inside can adhere to CDC guidelines for safe physical distancing