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March 29, 2020

The ACLU of Virginia is urging Gov. Ralph Northam to take additional steps to ensure that the response to COVID-19 in our criminal legal system is a uniform, statewide response that will bring added safety to the people held in state and local institutions and the staff caring for them across the Commonwealth.

Enclosed with the letter to the governor was a draft of an Executive Guidance document that, if signed by him, would result in better coordination among law enforcement, the courts and custodial institutions at the state and local level, It would also improve public safety by stemming the flow of people into our correctional institutions and facilitating the release of people now held in those facilities whose release would not present an imminent threat of harm to others.

“We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” said Executive Director Claire Gastañaga. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”

The Executive Guidance document is intended to help the governor in seeking to keep everyone, including the most vulnerable among us, safe and healthy in this pandemic. The ACLU-VA encourages a decisive, swift, coordinated and uniform statewide response by all parties to the criminal legal system including judges, Commonwealth’s attorneys, defense attorneys, sheriffs, and those in charge of custodial facilities at all levels for adults and juveniles in order to prevent illness and death.

The document focuses on immediate actions to curtail new custodial arrests and reduce the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, with an emphasis on people who are most vulnerable to the virus.

The letter and Executive Guidance document are attached. The ACLU-VA has also set up a hotline to receive information on civil rights and civil liberties violations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anyone with information should email or call (804) 803-3566.