Salt Lake County Council
Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office
Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office
Salt Lake County Probation Department
Salt Lake County Justice Court
Salt Lake County Board of Supervisors
Salt Lake County Department of Health
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Salt Lake County

April 27, 2020

To Whom It May Concern:

Incarceration is harmful to the health of everyone in jails, prisons, and detention centers, and not only during times of global health crisis. This threat affects people who are currently incarcerated, people who were formerly incarcerated, their loved ones, and the people who work in these facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic adds a concentrated urgency to this reality and foregrounds important truths about how incarceration exacerbates long-standing social disparities.

Prior to the pandemic, Utah already had one of the highest rates of jail deaths per capita in the nation. In 2017, UT saw more jail deaths than any other state. Incarcerated people in Utah stand at particular risk of dying from COVID-19.

Growing public health research on the harms of incarceration has repeatedly affirmed what frontline communities have said all along:

This pandemic reminds us that we are all only as safe and healthy as the most vulnerable among us.

This pandemic reminds us that overcrowded spaces—such as jails, prisons, and detention centers—are, at best, precarious environments for our health.

This pandemic reminds us that we have failed to create a functional social safety net—including healthcare, housing, and paid leave—in this county and beyond.

These grim realities demand immediate action in order to keep us all safe from COVID-19 and to build the healthy communities we seek beyond this pandemic. We believe our actions must center people who face incarceration, as they are among the most vulnerable in our society.

Thus, we continue to urge Salt Lake County officials to meet the following demands:

  1. Salt Lake County must stop incarcerating people. No new people should enter Metro or Oxbow Jail. This includes but is not limited to:

    1. Ending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention/custody, implementing zero transfers to ICE, and ending any collusion with ICE to arrest community members.

    2. Ending the criminalization of unhoused people, including police sweeps of unsheltered people and people living in vacant units.

    3. Ending crimeless revocations.

    4. Ending money bail and pretrial incarceration in favor of the presumption of release.

    5. Supporting decriminalization efforts, including drug use and sex work.

  2. Salt Lake County must decarcerate its jails. It is unsafe to be inside jails right now. The consequence of county inaction will be death. We expect releases to happen in waves; thus, steps to decarceration include but are not limited to:

    1. Prioritizing immediate release of those who are most directly vulnerable to COVID-19, including adults over the age of 50 (as called for by the Salt Lake County Public Defender), pregnant people, immunosuppressed people, and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

    2. Releasing those who are primary caregivers for anyone who falls in the above categories.

    3. Releasing those who are incarcerated pretrial.

    4. Releasing those who are incarcerated on low-level offenses, including charges or convictions due to mental health or substance abuse needs.

    5. Releasing those with a scheduled 2020 or 2021 calendar year release date.

    6. Releasing all persons incarcerated in Metro and Oxbow jails by April 30, 2020.

  3. Salt Lake County must meet the immediate needs of people who are incarcerated. There is no way to be inside a jail safely. In Salt Lake County’s Public Health Order (2020-4) issued by Salt Lake County Mayor Jennifer Wilson and Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Health Department Gary Edwards, they state that urgent action is required to slow the transmission of COVID-19. They asserted that if social distance measures are not taken, the pandemic will overwhelm our healthcare systems in April and May 2020.

    Social distancing is impossible for people inside of a jail. While we actively decarcerate, we must ensure that those who are still inside get their health needs met and are able to stay fully connected to their social support network. At a minimum, action steps include:

    1. Ensuring proper access to hygiene materials, including soap, sanitizing wipes, and high-alcohol hand sanitizer.

    2. Ensuring thorough and regular cleaning of the premises.

    3. Eliminating fees for phone calls and visitation by video.

    4. Ensuring that state law requiring no jail copays for medical or dental visits is being fully implemented.

    5. Barring the use of lockdowns, administrative segregation, or solitary confinement.

    6. Ensuring proper access to healthcare, including COVID-19 testing and mental health services.

    7. Ensuring access to nutritious food and drinks.

    8. Protecting people’s ability to sleep and rest to the full extent necessary.

  4. Salt Lake County must invest in the assets that make our communities healthy. As we divest from jails, prisons, detention centers, and policing, we must invest in health-affirming resources, such as robust health care, affordable housing, living wages, quality schools, environmental justice measures, and adequate transportation. Examples of the types of policies that our community seeks include:

    1. Ending evictions ordered by the court or carried out by the sheriff’s office.

    2. Improving fair-chance hiring and retention policies to ensure formerly incarcerated people can access quality career, job, and apprenticeship opportunities without the threat of discrimination.

    3. Instituting a moratorium on housing exclusions against people with criminal records.

This moment calls for bold strides to ensure families are able to protect themselves from both COVID-19 and state violence. It is the time for action.

We expect you to release a comprehensive county plan of action by Monday, May 4, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. MST with a public report on progress by Friday, May 8, 2020 and every subsequent Monday until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted federally, statewide, and in our county.

Sincerely,

Decarcerate Utah


In partnership with:

Democratic Socialists of Salt Lake City
Elders Rising
For The People – Salt Lake City
Green Party of Utah
Party of Socialism and Liberation – Salt Lake City
Red de Solidaridad
Salt Lake City Freedom Road Socialist Organization
Sex Worker Outreach Project – Salt Lake City
University of Utah Students for a Democratic Society
Utah Against Police Brutality
Wasatch Tenants United

Sources