More than 50 faith leaders from a wide range of locations and denominations signed on to a letter this week urging Governor John Bel Edwards to immediately release elderly and vulnerable detainees in Department of Corrections and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. There are more than 18,000 cases of and over 700 deaths from the highly contagious and deadly virus COVID-19 in Louisiana. Positive tests have been confirmed at almost every DOC facility and at least two ICE facilities. Without the ability to follow Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for social distancing, quarantine, and hygiene that prevent the spread of COVID-19, loved ones, advocates, and faith leaders fear that uncontrollable outbreaks will cause a catastrophic loss of life among those incarcerated and employed in detention facilities, as well as the surrounding communities across the state.
The request calls upon Governor Edwards to utilize emergency powers for release provided to his office under the constitution.
The letter states, “We fear those in detention are being sentenced to death despite your power to release them. We fear for those who work as correctional officers, medical staff, chaplains, mental health providers, and all personnel. We are concerned for their families and communities as well. This virus does not know the boundaries of confinement.”
“For people of the Christian faith, this holy week from Palm Sunday leading up to Easter is about entering into the suffering of the world and deciding how we will respond. The most vulnerable in the United States are the more than two million people sitting in prisons, jails, and detention centers with no protection and no place to go to stay safe from being infected by and dying of CoViD-19. This most sacred time of the year is a stark reminder of the choices we make. Our actions will reflect and our society will be measured by how we treat the most vulnerable during this time,” said Sister Alison McCrary, SFCC, Esq.
“As an advocate and a minister, I appeal to Governor John Bel Edwards, as well as our state Legislature, to reduce the inmate population in Louisiana’s overcrowded prisons and jails. Louisiana incarcerates more people per capita than any other state in the country. In Angola alone, over half the inmates are morethan 60 years old or live with chronic health issues such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, and obesity. Medical experts say that people with these conditions are more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who do not have these pre-existing health concerns. The experts also recommend social distancing as the most effective way to avoid spreading the virus. Reduction of the prison population is not just a medical necessity based on these expert opinions, but necessary to uphold the State’s moral obligation to protect its most vulnerable citizens,” said Minister Leo Jackson, Second Zion Prison Ministry.
Read the letter to Governor Edwards from Faith Leaders here.