Protect Prisoners against COVID-19 Letter


View a final pdf copy of the letter here

March 19, 2020


Dear San Francisco Elected Officials,


The concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic have become graver by the day. As a result of an announcement made earlier this week, six Bay Area counties have begun a “shelter in place.” This follows the federal administration’s declaration of a national emergency earlier this month. We are seeing the numbers of people contracting COVID-19 rise every day, with local governments, community organizations, and residents themselves doing all they can to prepare and ensure they are equipped to endure this pandemic.


Unfortunately, we have not done nearly enough to ensure the safety, health, and well being of our community members that are locked in the county jails. As both health and criminal justice experts have noted, carceral settings, including prisons, jails, and detention centers, are known incubators of infectious diseases. For instance, the Health Affairs journal notes that our “nation’s experience with tuberculosis, HIV and the ongoing hepatitis C epidemic has taught us that correctional settings are reservoirs of infectious diseases. Prisons push people into the paths of epidemics.” The Human Impact Partners’ Health Instead of Punishment Program has also published a national report detailing the harms of pretrial detention from a public health perspective. The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has already detailed steps that would reduce the jail population to help mitigate COVID-19.


Thus far, one of the only measures the SF Sheriff’s Department has taken is to further disconnect imprisoned people from their family and support networks by suspending visitation to county jails. Not only does this fail to address the fact that Sheriff’s deputies and other staff are just as likely to bring in the disease, but this shamefully cuts off imprisoned people from their loved ones during the worst public health crisis in recent memory.


The proven and most effective way to combat the spread of infectious diseases inside of jails is to reduce the imprisoned population and release people back into their communities. Indeed, in California, Los Angeles and San Diego counties have already begun reducing their jail populations. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, judges have been releasing people on bond, community service, or time served.


We urge you to take immediate action to ensure the health and wellbeing of imprisoned people, and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We trust that you will consider the following recommendations seriously.



  • Elder, Medical, and Early Release. Immediately release all individuals who are 50 years old or older, are immunocompromised, and/or have underlying medical conditions that pose increased risk from a COVID-19 infection. We also urge you to implement the demands and recommendations put together by TGI Justice Project to release and care for Transgender, gender nonconforming, intersex and LGBQ community members in the jails. Release all individuals who have 90 days or less remaining in their sentence, and accelerate the release of individuals with more than 90 days remaining. Release people without using electronic monitors.
  • Pretrial Release. Immediately release all people who are held pretrial.
  • Release all Youth from Juvenile Hall.
  • Free Phone Calls in Jails. Immediately implement previously agreed upon plans to make all prisoners’ phone calls to people outside of the jail free.
  • Reduce Police Contact with Community. Immediately suspend quality of life policing, the patrolling and sweeps of houseless community members, and the re-arrest and booking of people on technical parole violations. Halt new admissions to county jails.
  • Cite and Release. For any law enforcement contact that results in arrests, default to citing and releasing individuals whenever possible.
  • Halt all ICE Operations. Ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not picking anyone up, especially outside of county jails.
  • Begin Steps to Close 850 Bryant St. Jail without Out-of-County Transfers or Increases to Electronic Monitoring. As is widely known, 850 Bryant St is a decrepit, seismically unsafe structure, and County Jail #4 is itself a severe health hazard. Just last month, journalist Darwin Bond Graham revealed pictures taken inside County Jail #4 during a past sewage spill, stating “Raw sewage overflowed and soaked detainees’ belongings, forcing them to live in puddles of feces and urine-contaminated water.” Holding people in a building where such conditions are routine is unconscionable – particularly during the current pandemic. 
  • Housing for All. Open up access to unoccupied homes for anyone who needs them, particularly for imprisoned people being released. Put an immediate moratorium on home evictions, eviction proceedings, and rent enforcement.
  • Free Healthcare and Food Access. Free testing, treatment, healthcare, mental healthcare, and increased food access for all, particularly for imprisoned people being released.
  • Transparency to the Public. Report to the public a plan for the implementation of the above steps no later than Wednesday, March 25, 2020.


As COVID-19 is spreading exponentially, we urge you to take action immediately. Once a case of the virus is confirmed inside, it will already be too late. The moment has called upon us to take bold, and even unprecedented steps to combat this pandemic. San Francisco has stepped up and provided strong leadership for community members across the Bay Area; now you must do the same for those locked inside of our jails.




No New SF Jail Coalition

Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

Alliance of South Asians Taking Action

American Friends Service Committee

Anti Police-Terror Project

API Equality – Northern California

Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Causa Justa :: Just Cause

Coleman Advocates

Critical Resistance Oakland

Democratic Socialists of America – SF

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights


Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco

Human Impact Partners

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Justice Teams Network

Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center

National Organization for Women California

Prisoner Advocacy Network

Senior & Disability Action

SF Rising

SF Youth Commission

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

TGI Justice Project

Third Traditions Foundation

Western Regional Advocacy Project