Prosecutor, Criminal Defense Lawyer, and Public Health Law Organizations Call for Criminal Legal and Detention Systems as COVID-19 Vaccination Priority

Washington, DC (Dec. 3, 2020) – Today, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the national Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), and the Center for HIV Law & Policy (CHLP) issued the following joint statement concerning COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the American criminal legal and detention systems. The groups are calling for policymakers to prioritize all actors in the criminal legal system, including all individuals living and working in the nation’s jails, prisons, and other detention facilities, to be prioritized in the COVID-19 vaccination process. In May, early on in the pandemic, NACDL, APA, and CHLP were among the drafters of a set of principles for prioritizing public health, rather than criminal law, approaches in the national response to COVID-19 — Proposed Public Health and Public Safety Pathways for Criminal Justice System Responses to COVID-19.

According to the New York Times database, more than 200,000 inmates have contracted Covid-19, with more than 1,450 inmates and correctional officers having died from the virus. And as NACDL detailed in a June 2020 report — Criminal Court Reopening and Public Health in the COVID-19 Era — jury trials will not be safe until the pandemic is brought under control.

“The fact that prosecutors, defense lawyers, and public health legal experts are coming together and speaking out in order to protect the nation’s more than two million incarcerated people and get the criminal legal system moving safely speaks volumes,” said NACDL President Chris Adams.

“All system actors in the nation’s criminal legal system, as well as all those in the government’s custody or working in the nation’s jails, prisons, and other detention facilities, must be a top priority in the COVID-19 vaccination process that appears set to get underway in the coming weeks,” said APA President David LaBahn

“Incarcerated individuals have higher rates of asthma, diabetes and heart disease, which makes them especially vulnerable to COVID,” said CHLP Executive Director Catherine Hanssens. “A disproportionate number are Black and Hispanic, from communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Federal, state, and local governments have an ethical and legal responsibility to protect the health of incarcerated individuals and all others in the criminal legal system, which in turn protects the health of communities.” 

Read the Joint Statement