Asks correctional facilities to work with vendors to reduce or waive fees for phone calls, video calls, and emails
Expands on crucial civil rights recommendations made following NH’s state of emergency declaration
CONCORD, N.H. – The ACLU of New Hampshire is urging county houses of correction and the Department of Corrections to release COVID-19 response plans to the public that ensure residents’ civil rights are upheld while changes are made to protect against the virus. The ACLU-NH is also asking facilities to work with contracted vendors to reduce or waive fees for phone calls, video calls, and emails—the only options left for residents to contact their loved ones after a facility ends visitation hours.
“Residents of New Hampshire’s correctional facilities, along with their friends and family, deserve to know the steps being taken to protect their health and safety during this public emergency,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “Transparent plans from correctional facilities will ensure everyone is informed when it comes to visitation, testing, treatment, and the overall processes for handling COVID-19. With some facilities already announcing the end of visitation, it is crucial that their residents have a free or low-cost way to contact their family, friends, and legal counsel. We know that corrections officials are likely working around-the-clock to develop COVID-19 response plans, and we thank them for all they do to keep their residents healthy and uphold their civil rights during this crisis.”
People in jails are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses—they are housed in close quarters and are often in poor health. Without the active engagement of the administration of such facilities, people in jails or prisons have little to no ability to inform themselves about preventative measures, and no independent ability to take such measures if they do manage to learn of them. The ACLU of New Hampshire urges any COVID-19 response plan for county jails and state prisons to include the following critical components:
- Visitation: Visitation provides people who are detained with a critical connection to families, friends, and the community, and assists with rehabilitation, facilitates successful re-entry, as well as reduces recidivism. Accordingly, decisions to suspend all visitation should be made in consultation with local public health officials and should be made only when absolutely necessary.
- Alternative Forms of Communication/Waiving Phone Charges: Any decision to suspend visitation should be accompanied by clear plans and procedures to substitute other forms of communication so residents may still contact their families. Such plans should include increased access to phone calls and video calls. Correctional facilities should work with vendors to reduce or waive the fees for phone calls, video calls, and emails.
- Access to Counsel: People who are incarcerated must still have ready access to their attorneys, even if courts are closed or their activities reduced. If necessary, facilities could consider implementing non-contact legal visits or increasing the availability of confidential phone calls to reduce the number of in-person visits. Again, correctional facilities should work with vendors to reduce or waive the fees for phone and video calls.
- Use of Day Reporting Programs: Day reporting programs allow an individual to establish a day reporting program in lieu of incarceration for certain offenders, as deemed appropriate by a superintendent. Such programs may reduce the number of inmates in jails who need to be detained, thereby limiting the potential spread of COVID-19.
- Education of the People in Custody, and Staff: People housed in county jails or state prisons need to be informed about the virus and the measures they can take to minimize their risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Correctional, administrative, and medical staff all must be educated about the virus to protect themselves and their families, as well as the people in county custody.
- Staffing Plans: Regardless of how many staff stay home because they are sick or caring for others, the county houses of corrections and state prisons will have to continue functioning. There must be a plan for how necessary functions and services will continue if large numbers of staff are out due to the virus.
- Staffing Plans for Services Provided by Prisoners: Many tasks in jails and prisons, such as food preparation and basic sanitation, are performed by detained people. The plans for an outbreak must also address how necessary tasks performed by detained people will continue if large numbers of those individuals are ill.
- Provision of Hygiene Supplies: The most basic aspect of infection control is hygiene. There must be ready access to warm water and adequate hygiene and cleaning supplies, both for handwashing and for cleaning.
- Screening, Testing, and Treatment of the People in Your Custody: The plan must include a protocol, based on the best science available, on how and when to screen and test people in facilities for the virus. Courses of treatment must be evidence-based, available immediately, and in compliance with scientifically-based public health protocols.
- Housing of Persons Exposed to the Virus: The plan must describe how and where people in the houses of corrections will be housed if they are exposed to the virus, are at high risk of serious illness if they become infected, or become sick with it. This should not result in prolonged, widespread lock-downs. Any lock-downs or interruptions in regular activities, such as exercise or visits and phone calls with families or attorneys, should be based solely on the best science available and should be as limited as possible in scope and duration.
- Vulnerable Populations: The plan must provide for additional precautions for those who are at high risk of serious illness if they are infected, such as pregnant people, people over the age of 65, and people with chronic illnesses, compromised immune systems, or disabilities, and people whose housing placements restrict their access to medical care and limit the staff’s ability to observe them.
- Data Collection: The collection of data regarding COVID-19 will be part of the public health response. As with any contagious disease, data collection is critical to understanding and fighting the virus. The houses of corrections and prisons must be part of this process. The same information that is tracked in the community must be tracked in places of correction.