Open Letter: Dauphin County Prison COVID-19 Response

Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo
President Judge John Cherry
Harrisburg City Police Chief Thomas Carter
Director of Corrections Brian Clark
Dauphin County Adult Probation Director Chad Libby
Dauphin County Sheriff Nick Chimienti
Dauphin County Commissioners Jeff Haste, Mike Pries and George P. Hartwick, III

COVID-19 presents an incredible challenge for Dauphin County, and this challenge is particularly stark for our community members that are incarcerated at Dauphin County Prison. Public health officials agree that prisons and jails have high infection rates and limited ability to fight the spread of infectious diseases. The tools that prisons have available often result in further isolation and punishment for those they are supposed to protect. 

We are encouraged by the recognition of local police departments that continuing to incarcerate new people places officers, detained individuals, and the wider population all at risk. We also hope that stakeholders continue releasing individuals nearing the completion of their sentences, as well as those with elevated risk factors for contracting the disease. Out of these shared values of keeping our community safe and beating this virus, we call on our public leaders to take the additional following steps:

Reduce admissions to Dauphin County Prison by:

  • Continuing the practice of reducing new arrests;
  • Reject carceral solutions and instead dismiss charges; refer individuals to social services or other alternatives to incarceration; and release individuals on their own recognizance (ROR); and
  • Decline new revocations for technical violations of probation or parole.

Reduce the population of Dauphin County Prison by taking the following steps: 

  • Eliminate the use of cash bail and vastly limit pretrial detention;
  • Lift probation detainers, parole detainers and bench warrants; 
  • Release those with six months or less left to serve and people who are considered high-risk for contracting the virus, including the elderly and ill;
  • Release those being held on technical violations of probation or parole;
  • Loosen restrictions on GPS, Electronic Monitoring and House Arrest; and
  • Publish a plan regarding prosecution and decarceration that is transparent and public.

It is crucial that you act before the COVID-19 pandemic further threatens the health of our community both inside and outside of Dauphin County Prison. 

Signed,

 

Sam Moore, Board Member, Dauphin County Bail Fund
Vishal Bajpai, Executive Committee Member, Harrisburg Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America
John Hargreaves, Volunteer Director, Pennsylvania Prison Society
Brandon Flood, President, Bro2Go, Inc
Lamont Jones, Jones Resources
Shamaine Daniels, Harrisburg City Council Member
Amanda L. Arbour, Executive Director, LGBT Center of Central PA
Johnny Isley, Co-Director, Harrisburg Rising
Micalagh Mortiz, Program Director, Sycamore House Service Corps.
Katrina Raser, Membership & Data Coordinator, Put People First! PA – Harrisburg
Rev. Sandra L. Strauss, Director of Advocacy & Ecumenical Outreach, Pennsylvania Council of Churches