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Published 04/10/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 30 sec
OKLAHOMA CITY — Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma launched a television ad campaign urging state and local officials to release people who are elderly and medically vulnerable from prisons and jails. The ads, a joint effort with ACLU National, mark an escalation of the ACLU’s political advocacy efforts to save the most vulnerable from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, the ACLU of Oklahoma submitted a draft Executive Order to Governor Stitt with recommendations on steps to take to address concerns around our prison and jail populations.Additionally, the ACLU joined eight other organizations in a joint statement to encourage swift action to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Oklahoma Corrections facilities, and they’re working to prioritize signatures for the 283 commutations that have piled up on the Governor’s desk after several months of inaction.
“Our incarceration crisis has always been a public health crisis, and there is no more appropriate time to urgently reduce the number of people in prisons and jails to make sure the state is responsibly caring for people who need to remain detained, along with staff, healthcare workers, their families, and communities,” said ACLU of Oklahoma director of policy and advocacy, Nicole McAfee. “From policing, prosecution and pretrial hearings, to sentencing, confinement, and release, every aspect of the system must come under intense scrutiny for how it responds. We need the governor to take urgent action on commutations, and then lead by example so actors at county and city levels join in critical action so that outbreaks in prisons and jails don’t overwhelm the state’s ability to respond to the growing crisis.”
The ad buy, launched yesterday and running through next Wednesday, involves two ads: One features a woman pleading for the release of her sister Elaine, a woman with diabetes in prison. The other ad is a joint effort with the Union Theological Seminary and appeals to religious and moral principles, in the effort to save the lives of medically vulnerable and elderly people whose sentences are putting them at heightened risk.
The ads will air on MSNBC, CNN and FOX News for a week, and all of the key Sunday shows this weekend, in the key political markets of Washington D.C., Hartford, Conn., Oklahoma City, and Richmond, Va.
Since the pandemic’s start, ACLU and its state affiliates have filed more than 15 legal actions related to detention centers, prisons, and jails. The ACLU and its affiliates have also led advocacy efforts nationwide, which have included direct engagement with government officials, mobilization of constituents, drafting of model policies, as well as digital ad work.
Since these efforts started, more than 10,000 people have been freed from prisons and jails. Much more government action is needed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“During this extraordinary pandemic threat, elected officials must act swiftly to save the lives of the most vulnerable and ensure that a jail and prison sentence does not become a death sentence,” said Udi Ofer, ACLU deputy political director. “Public health officials are recommending reductions in incarceration rates, recognizing that social distancing is nearly impossible in prisons, jails, and detention centers. Where we haven’t seen swift action, we’ve sued, we’ve lobbied, and we’ve mobilized our supporters to free medically vulnerable and elderly people. We are using every tool in our toolbox, and are now taking our case to the airwaves: we can’t incarcerate our way out of this pandemic, but governors, sheriffs, prosecutors and the president have the power, and responsibility, to save lives.”