In The News

The Time To Act Is Now: Prevent COVID-19 Behind Bars

“Governors, sheriffs, judges and county officials who want to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections in their communities must get serious about reducing overcrowded jail and prison populations. Our nation’s prisons and jails will soon become uncontrollable super-spreaders of this pandemic — and the reach will extend beyond their walls and barbed wire fences.”
–Piper Kerman, Author, Orange is the New Black.

The window of opportunity to meaningfully address the impact of coronavirus among justice impacted community members is swiftly closing. In these dark times, it’s been inspiring to witness the fierce and creative efforts of Art for Justice Fund’s grantee partners to demand appropriate reductions in overcrowded systems of incarceration, probation and parole; improve conditions of confinement for those unlikely to be released; and establish just and supportive communities for people to return to.

Here are examples of how grantee partners have responded. Organizational links are embedded below so you can learn more about this work.

“We filed an emergency motion in federal court on behalf of 4,000 people languishing in the Harris County jail because they cannot pay money bail. This work has reduced the jail population by 10% in a couple weeks. However, local felony judges have refused to do more. About 8,000 still languish in the Houston jail. The Sheriff said their lives are at risk because the jail cannot protect them or treat them.”
–Alec Karakatsanis, Founder and Executive Director, Civil Rights Corps

“Schools have been closed across the nation because it is not safe for our children to be together—this precaution must extend to our kids behind bars, hundreds of whom are confined together 24/7. This pandemic heightens the vulnerability of our kids behind bars. We already know costly youth prisons increase recidivism while harming our youth’s mental health, physical well-being and education.”
–Liz Ryan, President and CEO, Youth First Initiative

“It’s a disservice to perpetuate the nonviolent-violent narrative. We have been working to remove this dichotomy when discussing releasing elders. There is supporting data about elders who’ve served 20+ years, posing no public safety risk, aged out of criminality with loving, stable families to come home to. They are the most vulnerable population to COVID-19.”
–Ebony Underwood, Founder and CEO, We Got Us Now 

“As former public servants who were charged with seeking justice, we understand the obligation to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community – and that obligation does not end at prison gates. The clock is ticking and it’s only a matter of time before this outbreak hits our many crowded federal facilities.”
–Miriam Aroni Krinsky, former federal prosecutor, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution 

“We are finding new ways to strengthen community among our ICAN (Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network) members. We are also partnering with national and state advocacy groups to call for measures to protect the health of incarcerated individuals. People in prison have limited access to soap, cannot choose to social distance, and if sick, will have limited access to meaningful healthcare.”
–Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

“We’ve launched Temperature Check: Covid-19 Behind Bars, a new rapid response series featuring original creative reportage by incarcerated writers, accompanied by podcast interviews with criminal justice reform experts on the pandemic’s impact in United States’ prisons.”
–Caits Meissner, Prison and Justice Writing Program Director, PEN America

“We stand with humility and urgency with people behind bars and their loved ones in this public-health crisis. We remind Ohioans that we get more durable community safety when we invest in health, not punishment. There has never been a moment where that is truer than now.”
–Erika Anthony, Executive Director, Ohio Transformation Fund

We’ll continue to share updates from those on the front lines of ending mass incarceration during the coronavirus pandemic. For more information about Art for Justice Fund’s grantee partners, please contact

Take care,

The Art for Justice Team