In response to soaring rates of COVID-19 infection and death among incarcerated people and throughout the Pennsylvania prison system, nearly three dozen state senators and state representatives have issued a joint letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, urging him to utilize his power of reprieve to immediately release incarcerated people who are elderly or medically vulnerable.
Pennsylvania’s correctional institutions now see a death rate from COVID-19 three times that of the general population.
“There is a growing crisis in our correctional facilities. Department of Corrections Secretary Wetzel has testified that they cannot stop the spread of the virus within the prison walls. Facility spread threatens to enhance community spread as more men and women die behind the walls and in our communities every day. I urge Gov. Wolf to once again use his reprieve power to protect our communities,” said Senator Sharif Street (D–Philadelphia).
More than 1,200 people were identified as being eligible for reprieve by Wolf’s administration in spring 2020, but since that time, reprieve has been granted to only 159 people.
On January 28, state Sens. Street, Nikil Saval and Anthony H. Williams released a co-sponsorship memorandum titled “Expanded Eligibility for Medical and Elderly Release to Mitigate COVID-19 in PA’s Prisons,” with the objective of expanding eligibility and improving the process to facilitate the release of those most at risk for severe illness and death.
This letter represents a significant bicameral effort among legislators, with 16 Democratic senators (a majority of the Senate Democratic Caucus) and 16 Democratic state representatives signed on, and with particular support from the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.
Read the full letter here