Imagine if you didn’t have soap or hand sanitizer. Or if you ate dinner elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of others and lived in a place so overcrowded you couldn’t possibly practice social distancing.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most dangerous places to be is in jail.
That’s why Ben & Jerry’s has teamed up with Advancement Project National Office and its national #FreeAndSafe campaign to reduce jail and prison populations. Overcrowded jails, prisons and detention centers create the perfect conditions for an outbreak that would quickly move beyond prison walls.
Advancement Project National Office and a coalition of civil rights and racial justice organizations recently convinced a federal judge in Miami to issue a temporary restraining order requiring the Metro West Detention Center to follow the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 safety precautions.
Advancement Project National Office is seeking similar legal action in Detroit and Oakland, Michigan; East Baton Rouge; and St. Louis. Ben & Jerry’s is supporting the effort with an online tool that helps people connect with their state and local officials to ask that incarcerated people be kept #FreeAndSafe from the coronavirus.
“The temporary restraining order was a victory for the people in Metro West Detention Center, but we still have more work to do,” said Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project Director at Advancement Project National Office. “Officials have a choice: immediately start releasing people to save their lives or watch while people die and the virus spreads to the broader community because of their indifference.”
Jails and prisons nationwide have released people to avoid a widespread outbreak within a contained population. The most likely to be released are those held on wealth-based, pre-trial detention; technical violations of parole or probation; and low level or non-violent crimes. People who are elderly or are close to the end of their sentences are also candidates.
“The COVID-19 crisis has given us an opportunity to reimagine our criminal system,” said Jabari Paul, US Activism Manager for Ben & Jerry’s. “Cities and states across the country are reevaluating their systems for imprisonment and arrests, ultimately creating a safer and more just approach. We’re proud to work with Advancement Project National Office toward ‘justice for all.’”
The #FreeAndSafe campaign is the latest effort in Ben & Jerry’s multi-year focus on criminal system reform, in partnership with Advancement Project National Office. The ice cream company does advocacy work with its fans through social media and digital ads, organizing, and online tools. Last year’s Justice ReMix’d flavor also highlighted the work of Ben & Jerry’s racial justice non-profit partner.