Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Healthcare professionals and opponents of carceral facilities demand the release of people detained at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida on May 1, 2020. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Healthcare professionals and opponents of carceral facilities demand the release of people detained at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida on May 1, 2020. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As Pandemic Drags On, 'Free Them All' National Days of Action Demand Mass Decarceration

Covid-19 turns "every cell and cage into a potential death chamber," organizers say. 

Kenny Stancil

The American Friends Service Committee and several other groups have planned several consecutive days of actions beginning Tuesday, during which opponents of mass incarceration will mobilize in communities across the U.S. to demand people be released from prisons, jails, and immigration and juvenile detention centers. 

As "a Quaker organization with more than a century of experience working to end militarism and violence," the AFSC is opposed to "punitive approaches" to public safety, which it considers "dehumanizing and harmful," and at odds with its goal of moving "toward a more peaceful world."

In a statement, the AFSC explained its preference for pursuing policies that "actually work to interrupt and prevent cycles of violence, end harm, and provide access to tools to ensure everyone's well-being," noting the organization's desire to see resources shifted away from "incarceration in all forms" and toward "institutions our communities most need... to thrive"

According to the AFSC, the U.S. carceral system is an unjust institution that violates the dignity and rights of 2.3 million people, disproportionately poor people and people of color, who are imprisoned with inadequate access to healthcare and other resources. Furthermore, despite having the highest incarceration rate in the world, the U.S. continues to experience "incredibly high rates of gun violence and sexual assault," meaning that "warehousing" millions of people is an ineffective crime deterrent that does "little to stop harm or help survivors of violence and communities heal."

"If incarceration stopped violence, the U.S. would be the safest country in the world," said Lewis Webb, coordinator of the AFSC's Healing Justice program. "Instead, we have 2.3 million people in cages while our communities lack access to quality healthcare, education, employment, addiction, and mental health services, and an approach to justice that actually addresses the root causes of violence. We believe another approach isn't only possible, but absolutely necessary for the well-being of our communities."

Kristin Kumpf, AFSC's director of human migration and mobility, explained that "thousands of people are in immigration detention—including people who recently came to the U.S. seeking asylum and those who have lived here with their families for years before getting caught up in the Trump administration's cruel immigration policies." She added, "We are calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to immediately release everyone in their custody."

While the AFSC seeks to shrink the carceral system and transform public safety in general, it made the case that the coronavirus pandemic renders imprisonment particularly deadly and strengthens the impetus for change. To date, there have been more than 176,000 positive cases among incarcerated people as well as staff—and at least 1,000 people have died, according to a statement shared by the organization. 

The group explained that "both infection rates and death rates are much higher" inside carceral facilities, where "the nature of confinement makes it almost impossible for people to practice social distancing, and inadequate healthcare and limited sanitation supplies help Covid-19 spread"—conditions that Common Dreams reported on last week. 

In a video urging viewers to join the call to #FreeThemAll, the AFSC described how the pandemic multiplies the dangers of incarceration, "making every sentence a potential death sentence" and "turning every cell and cage into a potential death chamber."

For all of these reasons, the AFSC and over a dozen partner organizations are asking people to safely participate in the national days of action that kick off Tuesday evening to demand local, state, and federal leaders:

  1. Release people from prison. Expand and expedite compassionate release, parole, commutation, and early release mechanisms so that elderly people, people who are medically vulnerable, and others who might be eligible for release can return to their homes as quickly as possible. Ensure that everyone has the opportunity for freedom. 
  2. Release everyone held on bail or bond in pretrial detention. 
  3. Release everyone held in ICE and CBP custody.  
  4. Release everyone held in juvenile detention and youth held in adult facilities. Remove all police from schools. 
  5. Ensure that both incarcerated people and staff have access to free Covid-19 testing and other essential medical services. Waive copays for medical visits, care, and prescriptions. Ensure all incarcerated people and staff have access to accurate and up-to-date health information. Provide free access to cleaning supplies including soap, CDC-recommended hand sanitizer, and protective equipment to all people in custody. 
  6. Take all measures to ensure that people have access to legal representation, legal information, and the courts, even in cases where movement is restricted.  
  7. Provide access to essential services—healthcare, mental health treatment, housing, and food—for people released from incarceration so they have the tools they need to stay healthy and safe on the outside. 
  8. End immigration enforcement actions, including deportations, and defund ICE and CBP.
  9. Defund the police. 
  10. Invest in community-based, community-controlled resources that truly keep us safe—education, housing, healthcare, addiction and mental health treatment, jobs, and job training, environmental protections, food access, meaningful reentry support, and restorative and transformative forms of justice that address the root causes of harm and violence. 

The AFSC noted that those unable to attend an event in-person can still take action online if they choose by telling their governor, ICE, and the Bureau of Prisons to protect people in prisons, jails, and detention centers from Covid-19 by releasing as many incarcerated people as possible. 

The events coincide with the 49th anniversary of the Attica uprising, when more than 2,000 people incarcerated in upstate New York occupied the prison yard to demand access to education, medical care, wages, and more. 

A list of actions by state can be found here


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·


Poll Shows Majority in US Want Diplomacy, Not War With Russia Over Ukraine

The survey's findings echo the pleas of progressive lawmakers, who assert "there is no military solution" to the crisis involving the world's two foremost nuclear powers.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Abortion Bans Kill People': Death of Woman Unleashes Protests in Poland

"The politicized tribunal has caused hell for women in Poland that must end as soon as possible—before another one of us dies."

Jessica Corbett ·


Clyburn Asks: Who Would Oppose Means-Testing Child Tax Credit? Answer: Lots of People

"There is literally not a single thing that the means-tested approach is better at than the universal approach," said one policy expert.

Jake Johnson ·


'Time to Rebuild This Nation': Fetterman Speaks Out After Pittsburgh Bridge Collapse

"This collapse is just the latest in a long line of preventable, man-made disasters that prove what so many of us in Pennsylvania and around the country have been saying for years: Our infrastructure is failing our people."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo