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April 7, 2020

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo 


State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci


Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
1220 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12226

Chairwoman Tina Stanford


New York State Board of Parole
1220 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12226

Re: Releasing New Yorkers from Prison is the Only Way to Save Lives in the Wake of COVID-19

To New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Corrections
and Community Supervision Anthony Annucci, and Chairwoman of the Parole Board Tina Stanford,

We are in the midst of a global pandemic of unimaginable proportions. While the world works to adjust
and enact drastic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the public, a massive
humanitarian crisis is unfolding inside New York state prisons. Of the 43,800 New Yorkers who are
currently in custody, 72% are Black or Latinx, 10,200 are over 50, and 3,500 have been behind bars for
more than 20 years, including 800 people who have served over 30 years.

As of today, two incarcerated people have died, dozens have tested positive and the number of infected
staff has surpassed 200. Similar to the free world, there are likely far more cases than those in the
official tally. We’ve heard reports that in addition to the two deaths in prison, there are at least four that
have gone unreported.

While we are aware of the various steps that DOCCS purports to have taken to prevent the spread of the
virus and to protect staff and incarcerated people, these precautions are insufficient. Deplorable,
unsanitary and inhumane conditions in our state correctional facilities guarantee that the continued
spread of coronavirus will be rapid and lethal. Practices like frequent hand-washing, social distancing
and self-quarantine are nearly impossible inside our prisons.

We agree with the hundreds of medical and public health experts across the country: the only
effective way to prevent the unending spread of COVID-19 is to release people from the confines
of prison. If you do not act now, we must prepare for a catastrophic loss of life behind bars.
The following is a list of demands from our community of advocates, attorneys, formerly incarcerated
people and family members with loved ones in prison. These demands are rooted in the belief that all
people have an inherent right to dignity, care and compassion, and that no person, regardless of the harm
they have caused, deserves to suffer or die behind bars.

Our demands are also rooted in notions of public safety. Releasing people from prison, especially those
who have served long sentences and are aging or elderly, strengthens our families, ensures the overall
well-being of our communities, and allows us to thrive.  
If you fail to act, you condemn all those in prison, both the people incarcerated and those charged with
their care, to prolonged sickness and, in many cases, death. We call on you to join us in this critical
moment by adopting the following:

Demands for Immediate Release of People in New York State Prisons 

 Grant immediate clemency to and release all people over 50, people with HIV/AIDS, people with
chronic illnesses (including lung conditions such as COPD, asthma, hepatitis, diabetes mellitus,
hypertension and/or cardiac disease, cancer), other immunocompromised people, people with
comorbid medical conditions, pregnant people and trans people.
 Grant immediate parole release to all people over 50, people with HIV/AIDS, people with
chronic illnesses (lung conditions such as COPD, asthma, hepatitis, diabetes mellitus, hypertension
and/or cardiac disease, cancer), other immunocompromised people, people with comorbid medical
conditions, pregnant people and trans people who have reached their minimum sentence and/or are
currently eligible for parole.
 Immediately release all people in prison who have been granted parole but have yet to be
released to community supervision, irrespective of their scheduled release date.
 Ensure all future Parole Board interviews continue in a timely and consistent manner
throughout the pandemic.
Demands for Reentry

 Expedite field investigations of residences and residential treatment programs to ensure swift
release of incarcerated people. 
 Develop a comprehensive housing and healthcare plan for all returning people.
 Partner with existing reentry and community-based organizations who are ready to support
people released during the pandemic
 Instruct the city and state housing authorities to lift the current ban on formerly incarcerated
people living in public housing. 

Demands for Supervision 

 Lift all travel restrictions for people on parole so they may travel to their preferred location for
self-isolation. 
 Remove electronic monitoring systems from the bodies/homes of people on supervision. 
 Suspend all programming requirements for people on supervision. 
 Suspend all remaining technical violations immediately and indefinitely. 
 Terminate all parole and probation supervision for people who have successfully completed one
year of supervision. 
 Train parole and probation staff in current healthcare practices and statewide orders.  

Demands for Improved Conditions Inside New York State Correctional Facilities

Testing and Prevention 


Testing must be readily available to all incarcerated people and staff, and DOCCS must immediately
implement measures to prevent the spread of the virus within state correctional facilities. 
Treatment and Care 
DOCCS must immediately develop a medical quarantine and treatment plan that does not rely on the use
of special housing units, keeplock, or any other form of solitary confinement. All care for those with
serious symptoms must be outsourced to local hospitals, as prison infirmaries are ill-equipped to hand
the medical care of such patients.

Communication and Visits 


Free and unlimited access to phone calls, emails and letters will ensure incarcerated people can stay in
touch with family members and loved ones during the pandemic. Unlimited access to legal counsel and
the courts is a fundamental right and must not be compromised. 

Confinement and Movement 


Freedom of movement and access to the outdoors is essential to the dignity, physical health and mental
well-being of all people, especially those incarcerated. DOCCS must institute facility-wide policies that
curb the spread of COVID-19, while ensuring that measures do not deprive anyone of their basic
liberties. 

Access to Services 
Regular and uninterrupted access to supportive services ensures that incarcerated people can meet their
basic needs and survive a pandemic. 

Prison Labor 
Incarcerated workers must be protected and justly compensated if they chose to provide invaluable labor
to the state.

Further Criminalization
State and local officials must not abuse public health orders to further criminalize our communities as
they attempt to survive this pandemic.

Monitoring and Transparency 


Guarantee transparency and access to information regarding the conditions in prison and preparations
made to address the danger of coronavirus and its spread. 

This letter serves both as a warning for what is to come, and a plea for immediate action. The lives of
thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers depend on the actions you take today. 

Sincerely,
The Release Aging People in Prison Campaign
The Parole Preparation Project

Alliance of Families for Justice


Appellate Advocates
Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Long Island
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Criminal Defense Clinic
Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration
Cardozo Law School Criminal Defense Clinic
Center for Appellate Litigation
Center for Community Alternatives
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU Law
Children's Defense Fund-New York
Citizen Action of New York
College & Community Fellowship
Correctional Association of New York
Critical Resistance NYC Chapter
CUNY Law Formerly Incarcerated Law Students Advocacy Association
Defenders Clinic of CUNY School of Law
Friends of Island Academy
FWD.us
GAPIMNY—Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders
Green Haven Prison Project at Yale Law School
Indivisible Brooklyn
International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
John Brown Lives!
JustLeadershipUSA
National Action Network NYC Chapter Second Chance Committee
New Hour for Women & Children -LI
New York Communities for Change
NYC Jericho Movement
NYCAIC #HALTsolitary Campaign
NYS Prisoner Justice Network
NYU School of Law
Office of the Appellate Defender
Prison Families Anonymous
Showing Up for Racial Justice Buffalo
The Bronx Defenders
The Legal Aid Society
Trans Pride Initiative
Turning Points Resource Center
VOCAL-NY
Yale Criminal Defense Clinic
Yale Law School National Lawyers Guild
Youth Arts New York

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