An Open Letter to Dane County Officials:

No matter what we look like, where we live, what’s in our wallets, or whether we are detained in the Dane County Jail, getting sick reminds us that at our core, we are all just human.

COVID-19 has reminded us that we are dependent on each other, now more than ever. Whether we are Black or white, native or immigrants, incarcerated, or in the community, our own health is connected to everyone else’s health. We know it is time to pull together to put in place the testing and treatment we all need to stop this pandemic. Only by standing united can we ensure our own wellbeing throughout this outbreak and rewrite the rules to ensure better health for us all for generations to come. The people in the jail are unlikely to completely avoid the scourge of this pandemic, if for no other reason than that some of the people newly incarcerated and/or some of the staff who enter into the jail will unknowingly carry the infection into our jail.

We acknowledge the measures that the Sheriff has taken to limit the spread of disease into the jail.  Both the limiting of visitors and the health checks will slow the infection, but since people are infectious before they show symptoms, sheriffs and wardens around the country have concluded that these measures will not effectively allow the nation’s jails to operate as safe islands in a sea of infection.  As soon as COVID-19 is introduced into a crowded and typically unsanitary facility like a jail, it will create a medical disaster. The recent decision by the WI Department of Corrections to keep newly incarcerated people from being moved into the WI prison system will also add to the pressure on jails statewide. An effective response to this crisis will require cooperation among the Sheriff, District Attorneys, Public Defenders, Police, and the Department of Corrections with support from the community.

Counties around the country are facing this problem in a number of ways, but the basic strategy is to empty the jails as much as possible by discharging people who do not need to be there starting with those who are old or have underlying medical issues. Dane County has started this process, but will need a more aggressive and coordinated approach.

The position statement below includes an appendix with a list of possible actions and a description of efforts other counties throughout the country have taken to reduce jail populations. We advocate that Dane County implement these possible actions and approaches as practicable.

We stand united against anyone who would divide us by suggesting that people detained in our jail do not deserve the same testing, vaccines, and treatments we all need to stay well and recover if infected.

Now is the time for us to unite across our differences and make policy choices that help everyday people. As individuals, we can wash our hands, avoid unnecessary travel, and check in on our friends and neighbors; as a united force including voices for reform within government, we all demand our local, state, and national governments do everything possible to protect everyone’s health, no exceptions.

MOSES requests that you review the attached document and then implement measures that will keep the people in our jail healthy and consequently keep all of us healthy and safe.


Rachel Kincade

MOSES President

MOSES Position Statement on Reducing the Dane County Jail Population Due to the Coronavirus March 23, 2020

MOSES Position Statement:

The Dane County Jail must do everything possible to keep people who are incarcerated there safe from the coronavirus. This effort must include substantially reducing the jail population.

Possible Actions:

  • Substantially reduce the population of the Dane County Jail. We do not advocate release of individuals (such as people who have committed murder) who pose a MAJOR public safety risk.
  • There should be consideration  about where people will go; people who would not have housing when they are released may need to stay until there is somewhere for them to go.
  • Make testing of individuals already in jail and the jail staff a priority if testing is available.
  • Test all individuals at booking if possible and isolate them until the results are available.
  • If testing is not available, isolate all new people entering the jail in a 14-day quarantine before they are mixed with the general population (this is based on what we have read about the virus incubation period).
  • Make efforts to avoid keeping people in jail:
    • Law enforcement should cite and release people whenever possible.
    • Non-violent people who are awaiting trial should be released. Do not introduce new non-violent people to the jail.
    • Law enforcement should consider releasing anybody who likely would be released on bail, including cases of crimes classified as “violent”, but in which no one was seriously hurt (most crimes in this classification are relatively minor assaults and robberies).
    • The County should work with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to reduce DOC holds — no DOC holds unless the individual is sentenced with a new and violent crime and no holds for crimeless revocations (e.g., having an email address without the parole officer’s knowledge).
  • Reduce jail stays of 2-3 day duration — only hold people accused of violent crimes who would not likely be released on bail. Use home monitoring or signature bonds.
  • Release Huber individuals who have already been in the community every day (they have already proven that they are not a risk to the community).
  • Release individuals who are near their release date.
  • Release individuals who are at high risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19. These include individuals defined by the Center for Disease Control as having a high risk: over age 65, and those over 50 with health conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and cancer. (This should exclude people with major crimes whose release would pose a risk to the community.)


Appendix: Actions and Ideas from other parts of the country supporting our positions:

  1. Justice Action Network: As COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the country, it’s critical for all parts of society to work together to mitigate the impact on vulnerable populations, and that includes people in the justice system.  See March 23 entry about Ingham County. This resource is actively updated.

In Michigan, more than 100 people were released from the Ingham County Jail, most of them near the end of their sentences. Officials have used the additional space to create a quarantine area that will hold new admissions for 14 days to ensure they don’t bring COVID-19 into the facility.


  1. San Francisco:  San Francisco Officials Push to Reduce Jail Population to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak – The Appeal By Office of the Public Defender -March 12, 2020

“San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju issued a statement Tuesday that his office’s attorneys “will begin filing motions to seek the immediate release of all clients being held pre-trial in San Francisco county jails who are at heightened risk for illness from coronavirus.” This includes people over 60 years of age and those with medical conditions like heart and lung disease. Raju called San Francisco’s jails “cramped and unsanitary.”

“San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin directed his prosecutors not to oppose motions to release pretrial detainees facing misdemeanor charges or drug-related felony charges if the person is deemed to pose no threat to public safety. Boudin also directed his staff to “strongly consider” credit for time served in plea deals so that more people can be released.”

  1. New York Times:  An Epicenter of the Pandemic Will Be Jails and Prisons, if Inaction ContinuesThe conditions inside, which are inhumane, are now a threat to any American with a jail in their county — that’s everyone.

By Amanda Klonsky (Dr. Klonsky leads a prison education organization)

“We should recall that we have 5,000 jails and prisons full of people with high rates of health problems, and where health services are often inadequate and disconnected from the community systems directing the coronavirus response,” said Dr. Homer Venters, former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system. “Coronavirus in these settings will dramatically increase the epidemic curve, not flatten it, and disproportionately for people of color.”

“Jails are particularly frightening in this pandemic because of their massive turnover. While over 600,000 people enter prison gates annually, there are about 612,000 people in jail on any given day. More than half of the people in jail are only in there for two to three days. In some communities, the county jail or prison is a major employer. Jail staff members are also notoriously underpaid, may not have paid sick leave and are more likely to live in apartments, in close and frequent contact with neighbors. They return home daily to aging parents, pregnant partners or family members with chronic conditions.”

  1. Cuyahoga County court will hold Saturday hearings to reduce jail population in response to coronavirus:

  1. Los Angeles Times Editorial:  Editorial: Coronavirus makes jails and prisons potential death traps. That puts us all in danger“Inmates with 30 days or fewer left on their sentences have been released. The sheriff has asked police departments to limit arrests to only dangerous suspects, thereby decreasing new entries. Defendants awaiting trial who have bail set at $50,000 or less are cited and released.”

“These are smart and responsible moves to reduce the threat of a coronavirus disaster in jails. But that still leaves more than 16,000 people behind bars. There is so much more that can and should be done in jails, where stays are short, as well as prisons, where they are much longer.”

“Virtually no defendant should be admitted to jail during this emergency who does not pose a risk to public safety. By definition that includes anyone with bail set, whether they can pay it or not, and anyone subject to jail for a technical parole or probation violation. There are alternatives to incarceration that promote safety and fulfill the public’s need to see justice done; now is the time to employ them.”


“Sheriff Alex Villanueva said deputies and police officers across the county have been directed to cite and release people whenever possible, instead of arresting them, and to seek medical clearance before booking anyone who shows symptoms. Countywide, he said, arrests have dropped from a daily average of 300 to 60, while the jail population was reduced by more than 600 inmates.”


  1. Wayne County (Detroit) officials to weigh releasing jail inmates vulnerable to coronavirus“The meeting will look at the Wayne County jail population, examine who is at greatest medical risk based on standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and determine whether those individuals can be let out under certain release circumstances, Kenny said.”“People sent to jail for things like traffic misdemeanors or civil child support issues, and who have health problems, are among candidates, Dunlap said.”“That doesn’t include some charges like domestic violence, stalking and assaultive behavior.”
  2. Baltimore Sun: Maryland jails are incubators for the coronavirus and precautions must be taken to avoid an outbreak, experts say“Dr. Homer Venters, a New York based president of the Community Oriented Correctional Health Services, a group focused on healthcare in jails, said jails and prisons have special risks that other spaces may not have. The threat is particularly acute for elderly patients or those suffering from chronic illness -a common problem in many prisons.”“Jails and prisons promote spread. Generally these are filthy, dirty places,” Venters said. “One of the simplest tools to combat an outbreak is hand washing. Many people in prisons and jails don’t have access. Many sinks are broken or don’t have soap or paper towels. Often there are no sinks.””Think of intake areas, teeming pens of 30 to 40 to 50 people in a room with a concrete floor that people lie on and no place to wash.”

“Venters said to combat the problem, facilities need to develop plans if inmates become sick. Venters said correctional facilities “drive up the curve” of more potential virus cases.”


  1. San Francisco:  San Francisco Officials Push to Reduce Jail Population to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak – The Appeal By Office of the Public Defender -March 12, 2020

“San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju issued a statement Tuesday that his office’s attorneys “will begin filing motions to seek the immediate release of all clients being held pre-trial in San Francisco county jails who are at heightened risk for illness from coronavirus.” This includes people over 60 years of age and those with medical conditions like heart and lung disease. Raju called San Francisco’s jails “cramped and unsanitary.”

“San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin directed his prosecutors not to oppose motions to release pretrial detainees facing misdemeanor charges or drug-related felony charges if the person is deemed to pose no threat to public safety. Boudin also directed his staff to “strongly consider” credit for time served in plea deals so that more people can be released.”

  1. Tampa Florida: Hillsborough sheriff releases 164 county jail inmates to reduce coronavirus risk“The inmates are pre-trial detainees accused of low-level, non-violent crimes, Sheriff Chad Chronister said.”
  2. New York Rikers Island: First correction officer tests positive as worries grow about coronavirus spread in jails“Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering freeing some inmates to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the close quarters of city jails and elected officials are pushing for the city to also pull back on low-level arrests. But the union representing correction officers opposes releasing prisoners, and is instead demanding better safety supplies for workers.”
  3. Cook County Illinois: Cook County officials ponder inmate release to ease coronavirus concerns at jail; advocates demand state consider taking action“People at the jail are in a confined area,” Sheriff Tom Dartsaid in a Tribune interview. “If we get one infection, we’ve got a huge problem.”“Meanwhile, there were increased calls statewide for officials to start considering so-called compassionate releases as a way to ease the pressure and burden on the facilities, not to mention protect staff and inmates.”“In Cook County, those discussions were already underway. Officials were considering a program of early releases for detainees who have exceptional health care needs, for example, so long as they don’t pose a threat or flight risk.”
  4. Louisville: More than 100 pretrial defendants to be released from jail to avoid coronavirus spread (Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier Journal)“Public defenders and prosecutors have agreed to release about 110 defendants who are awaiting trial in Jefferson County Jail to try to reduce exposure of inmates to the new coronavirus.”“Judges must sign off on the agreements but the move has been approved, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine and Chief Public Defender Leo Smith.”“Wine said only non-violent offenders with a low risk of reoffending and absconding will be freed. He said prosecutors vetted every proposed release and some were rejected.”
  5. Cuyahoga County activates at-home video visitation for jail inmates, gives one free visit per week amid coronavirus pandemic
  6. New York Daily News: Why we must reduce jail populations now: Coronavirus, incarceration and public health  By DR. ROBERT L. COHEN“Mayor de Blasio should act immediately to decrease the number of people in the jails and to decrease the number who are sent to jail. He should request emergency compassionate medical release for persons at highest risk for serious and fatal illness: people who are 50 years old or older and people who have other health conditions, including chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer or a weakened immune system. Some will require health, mental health and housing support to assure a safe discharge plan.”“Simultaneously the city should work with Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, the police department, and the city’s five district attorneys to stop admitting persons to the jails for pretrial detention whenever possible, and certainly for administrative reasons (missed court dates) and parole violations. Technical parole violations should not result in incarceration. Misdemeanor charges should not result in incarceration, whether the accused is on parole or not. Persons currently jailed for administrative or technical parole violations should be released. All city sentenced persons, in jail for misdemeanors, should be released.”“More complicated, but with substantial potential for decreasing the jail population, would be a commitment by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to work with district attorneys, the defense bar and the judiciary to facilitate discharge of detainees the courts, the DAs and defense lawyers can agree to release.”
  7. SANTA RITA (CBS SF) — Alameda County authorities announced Thursday that 314 inmates at its jail facility have been approved for sentence modification and early release during the current coronavirus crisis.“Sheriff Gregory Ahern said in a phone interview that he took that action at the request of Alameda County Presiding Judge Tara Desautels, Public Defender Brendon Woods and District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.”“In a statement, Public Defender Mano Raju said his office would begin filing motions to seek the release of all clients in San Francisco county jails at heightened risk, such as people over 60, those with heart or lung disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV, or autoimmune diseases.”“We are taking this action to protect older adults and those with compromised immune systems who are extremely vulnerable right now. People who are incarcerated in jail are already exposed to an unsafe environment,” said Raju. “The cramped and unsanitary conditions in jail put the older or immunocompromised population at a much greater risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus.”
  8. Washington Post: Prosecutors, defense attorneys press to release inmates, drop charges and thin jail population in response to the coronavirus By Ann E. Marimow and Tom Jackman“Law enforcement officials and defense attorneys in Maryland, the District and throughout the country are taking steps to release inmates, drop pending prosecutions and lock up fewer new defendants to thin crowded prisons that public health officials say are ripe for spreading the coronavirus.”“Nationally, a group of more than two dozen prosecutors in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Baltimore called on police to cite and release suspects they arrest who pose no physical threat. Prosecutors also are asking jailers to release those who cannot afford cash bail and those who are elderly or within six months of finishing their sentences.”“The top prosecutor and public defender in Prince George’s County, who are typically adversaries in the courtroom, asked a judge on Thursday to release from jail dozens of people who have been charged with low-level, nonviolent crimes and are awaiting trial.”“Prince George’s District Judge Clayton A. Aarons ordered the release of 50 people after a day-long court session, and more cases are set for review Friday.”“A jail is essentially a petri dish. Once the virus gets in there, it could have a devastating effect,” said Public Defender Keith Lotridge, who is working with State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy from a nearly empty courthouse in Upper Marlboro, Md.
  9. ACLU Activists implore prisons to release at-risk inmates to prevent coronavirus deaths By Kurtis Lee Los Angeles Times (TNS)“They live in overcrowded facilities, sometimes jammed into tiny spaces in groups of three. Sanitary conditions can be an afterthought. Social distancing is rarely an option.”

“For the nearly 2.3 million people held in prisons and jails nationwide and the guards who work inside, a scramble is underway to prevent the coronavirus from seeping within.”

“In letters to the U.S. Department of Justice and local leaders, the ACLU has called for the immediate release of inmates whose sentences would be completed within the next two years and who fall within a category deemed as particularly vulnerable: over the age 65 or having an underlying condition. In the letter dated March 18, the American Civil Liberties Union also asked local law enforcement to temporarily stop arresting people for minor offenses and instead issue citations. Those in jail on low-level nonviolent offenses should be released, according to the letter.”