Email from April 15, 2020


Dear Moya:

It is important for me to restate that NASW is deeply involved with COVID-19 jails, prisons, juvenile detention, and immigrant detention issues. For example, last week, we disseminated Justice Roundtable’s COVID-19 analysis and recommendations to NASW chapters and members; the recommendations were developed in partnership with NASW. Two weeks ago, NASW disseminated a vulnerable populations resource overview that included links to several reports and alerts about exposure of detained people to COVID-19. Additionally, we provide critical input on the National Commission of Correction Health Care on their COVID-19 policies.

As you know, the activities listed above are only a partial list of NASW’s engagement on the issue. It does not include the input we have with the Juvenile Justice community and the immigration community. We work in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice’s Roundtable on safe alternatives to solitary confinement; earlier this week we met with our Vera Institute colleagues to advance this work.

As you know Moya, NASW has a longstanding presence on the Vera Institute’s Solitary Confinement Advisory Committee and are actively engagement with the Justice Roundtable and LCCR’s Justice Reform Taskforce. Recently, NASW was one of several organizations that sent a letter to CDC asking for health care support for people who are incarcerated and urging the release of some prisoners, including those who are elderly. The letter to CDC is getting important news coverage.

Moya, I also want to share the attached NASW Social Justice Brief, Implications of COVID 19 for Vulnerable and Marginalized Populations, that was released today. We will continue to advocate vigorously for supports and protection through congressional relief packages and other mechanisms.

In addition to our advocacy work on jails, prisons, juvenile detention, and immigrant detention issues, we have a significant presence in other important social justice and social safety net issues. For more details on our advocacy (just on COVID-19), go to

In your response email to me on Monday, you reiterated your urgent request for NASW to develop a line of communication between NASW national, chapters, and all related local, state, national and international social work and health organizations to push for release of low-risk and older or medically vulnerable inmates not likely to be considered for release. We have already engaged in this work through our communication channels and will continue to do so. Through our social media and other communication outlets we engage all aspects of the social work profession (students, educators, members, colleagues) in this work, highlighting the needs of people who are detained and incarcerated and the conditions within correctional facilities as a result of COVID-19.

Moya, in follow up to the Social Justice Brief that we released today, NASW will monitor member feedback on our website and social media. We fully intend to follow up with additional advocacy for people who are detained and incarcerated. Hopefully, when our objectives align, we can collaborate on future advocacy efforts; we’d welcome such.



Email from April 12, 2020


Dear Moya:

I’m glad we were able to communicate last week. I appreciate you giving NASW a chance to comment on the memorandum set for release through SWASC’s newsletter End Solitary! and your other channels.

We know that practicing social distancing is nearly impossible for inmates; they have no control over the amount of space they live in and are unable to ensure that their living space is sanitary. During this pandemic, inmates are caught in a terrible conundrum: they can’t check on the people they care about and they have to endure unbearable levels of uncertainty, anxiety and fear. NASW agrees with calling for the immediate release of low-risk individuals, older or medically vulnerable inmates, and low-risk individuals who are in pretrial detention because of cash bail. We agree social work should help give voice and sound the alarm that jails and prisons are highly contagious and are ripe for COVID outbreaks. We agree that in the midst of this crisis states, counties, and cities should be taking every reasonable step to reduce the incarcerated population—it’s good public health to reduce inmates potential exposure to coronavirus.

We all understand that the release of inmates requires a deliberate process that gives close attention to detail, for the safety of each inmate, his or her family, and the community at large—we know inmates can’t simply walk out of prison at the snap of a finger; however, delays in sensible and individualized release planning is unacceptable. We must demand that authorities constantly evolve their procedures and increase the number of inmates released on a daily basis. Release planning must ensure that the incarcerated individual will have access to health care and somewhere to live upon release; authorizes must ensure that they do not become homeless immediately upon release.

NASW has been following news about COVID-19 and incarcerated people and we have received “reports from the field” from social workers. We’ve heard that certain facilities have no hand soap, poor air ventilation, and there are no COVID-19 testing kits. In some correctional facilities, correctional staff must ration and reuse masks, and none of the staff or inmates can be tested to even know if they are carrying the virus. We’ve heard that many correctional officers are exposing themselves daily to potential infection. Being inside during this moment of crisis, fear and uncertainty, is beyond unsettling for inmates. As we follow developments across the country we’ve seen:

  • Butner, North Carolina: At the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, NC one inmate died over the weekend from COVID-19 complications. Officials report more than 80 people, including 22 employees, had tested positive at the Butner complex.

  • Marion, Ohio: At the Marion, OH prison at least 34 staff members and nine inmates tested positive for COVID-19. One correction officer has died. Test results were pending this week for two more prisoners at the facility. The outbreak in Marion has left the prison badly understaffed. Not only has the prison lost the correction officers who have tested positive for the virus, but others are under quarantine because they show symptoms of the virus. Guards on one shift sometimes have to stay and work the next, working 16-hour shifts.

  • New York City: New York City has started releasing “vulnerable” inmates who have underlying health conditions, including those who were arrested for minor crimes. Some inmates at Rikers Island in the city tested positive for the virus and eight others were showing symptoms.

  • Philadelphia, PA: Philly recently released hundreds of inmates due to Coronavirus.

  • Chicago, IL:S. District Judge Robert Dow issued an opinion that the court would not intervene to release inmates a week after a pair of lawsuits were filed by a consortium of civil rights attorneys and community activists seeking the release of as many as 13,000 prisoners due to the COVID-19 crisis, including many who were convicted of nonviolent offenses, are elderly, at elevated risk to get ill, or have already served most of their sentences. Governor J.B. Pritzker committed to a process to review and release as many inmates as possible. At the Cook County Jail, 3 detainees have died due to COVID-19, 306 detainees have tested positive (20 are hospitalized, and 36 are relocated to a recovery facility), and 218 Sherriff’s Office staff have tested positive.

  • New Jersey: Elderly, sick N.J. prison inmates will be released due to coronavirus crisis. Governor Murphy says no one convicted of murder, sexual assault or other serious crimes would be eligible. Eligible inmates who are released will be confined at home. People older than 60, those with high-risk medical conditions, anyone finishing their sentences within three months and anyone recently considered for parole are eligible.

NASW is involved in a number of activities to respond to this human rights issue. We are finalizing our legislative requests for the fourth COVID-19 relief package. We will ask for additional funding for prevention and intervention services for people in prisons, jail, juvenile detention and immigration detention. We’re working on a Social Justice Brief that is scheduled for release this week; it highlights issues of social injustice, disparities, and inequity. As you know, the COVID pandemic is exposing the gaps in the social system for the poor, poor people of color, immigrants, and incarcerated populations.

If there are opportunities for NASW to coordinate efforts or share information with SWASC, we welcome the opportunity.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply