HARRISBURG — Today, three criminal legal reform groups issued a statement in response to Governor Tom Wolf’s failure to use his powers of reprieve to reduce the populations of Pennsylvania’s state prisons to lower the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
On March 18, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Abolitionist Law Center, and Amistad Law Project sent a letter to Governor Wolf, urging him to take immediate action to expedite the releases of people from state prisons who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and others who can be safely released. Despite the governor’s willingness to use his powers of reprieve in 2015 to implement a moratorium on the state’s death penalty, he has not yet taken meaningful action to protect public safety in Pennsylvania’s prisons during this pandemic.
The following statement can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“It’s been nearly two weeks since we reached out to Governor Wolf, and we have thus far seen no indication that he is willing to use his executive powers, like that of reprieve, during this public health crisis. Governor Wolf’s failure so far to use his executive powers to address this building crisis in the state’s prisons is bewildering and inexcusable. An outbreak of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania’s prisons would be a catastrophe. Immediate action must be taken by the governor to prevent people from getting sick and dying.”
The following can be attributed to Bret Grote, legal director at the Abolitionist Law Center:
“More than 20,000 people cycle in and out of the Department of Corrections every year already; the time to cycle thousands out of prison is right now. This can be done. The governor has all the constitutional authority he needs to release people from custody and save lives. A COVID-19 outbreak is beginning to unfold in the prisons, and it will be catastrophic. Mass incarceration is a public health liability and continued inaction by the governor will result in preventable deaths.”
The following can be attributed to Sean Damon, organizing director at the Amistad Law Project:
“Governor Wolf has a responsibility to protect the vulnerable. Right now, he can and must use his power of reprieve to reduce the state prison population with a focus on getting the elderly and people who have compromised health to safer situations. This is about the human rights of incarcerated people, but it is also urgently about the human rights of rural communities. If the state prisons become wildfires of COVID-19, more staff will become infected, and they will in turn track the virus back out to more vulnerable members of their communities. Already under-resourced rural health systems will be quickly overwhelmed. If Governor Wolf does not act now to save thousands of lives, the resulting harm will be on his hands.”