OKLAHOMA CITY — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and 31 ACLU Affiliates, coordinated public records requests to Oklahoma and the Trump administration that seek information on what the Bureau of Prisons, Governors and the Department of Corrections knew about the potentially catastrophic impacts of COVID-19 on their prisons and the communities surrounding them.
The ACLU of Oklahoma’s records requests follow the release of a first-of-its-kind epidemiological model that shows that as many as 200,000 people could die from COVID-19 — double the government estimate — if the federal government and states fail to release people from jails as part of the public health efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. In response to the ACLU model, a Trump administration spokesperson refused to comment. The ACLU is now filing records requests to find out what the state and federal leaders knew and when they knew it, as COVID-19 has begun to infect and kill people incarcerated in and working in federal and state prisons and jails as well as the surrounding communities.
The ACLU of Oklahoma is seeking records that will:
- Expose whether and when Oklahoma first understood the magnitude of the risk that COVID-19 posed to people living and working in state and federal prisons and the surrounding communities;
- Reveal whether models relied upon by Oklahoma were fundamentally flawed by failing to account for the magnifying effect that prisons have on the spread of COVID-19 inside and outside detention facilities.
- Seek copies of any recommendations made to prevent COVID-19 spread to see what was ignored;
- Discover communications, including emails, among senior officials as the first infections and deaths occurred within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and state facilities;
- Uncover first-hand complaints and grievances made directly by the staff and people incarcerated in Oklahoma who had prior knowledge of the horrifying lack of planning, hygiene, and care inside federal prisons as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Public health experts and community organizations in Oklahoma have rung multiple alarm bells about the spread of COVID-19 in our prison system. Despite those warnings, the depopulation of jails, prisons, and other detention facilities continues too slowly to avoid catastrophe.” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director. “Our requests for records will reveal what Oklahoma knew about the impacts of COVID-19 on our prison system ahead of its spread, and what they failed to discover by relying on faulty models.”
ACLU advocacy across the nation has led to at least 20,000 fewer people in jails and prisons in order to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives both within these institutions and in their surrounding communities. The ACLU is fighting for thousands more to be released to help stop the spread of COVID-19.