Media Contact

Ed Sifuentes, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, 619-501-3408,

March 12, 2020

SAN DIEGO — The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) yesterday sent letters to various local officials who oversee jails, prisons and juvenile halls in San Diego and Imperial counties urging them to develop a comprehensive emergency plan for the prevention and management of potential Coronavirus or COVID-19 cases at their facilities.

In the letters, ACLUF-SDIC asks for written responses from officials that explain how they plan to protect the health and wellbeing of people in their custody and people who work at these facilities. The ACLU underscored in its letters that not having an effective plan, developed and implemented in coordination with state and local public health institutions, “may cost lives.”

The ACLUF-SDIC sent letters to Calipatria State Prison; Centinela State Prison; the Imperial County Probation Department in Imperial County; and the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees jails in Imperial County; the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Probation Administration Center in San Diego County; and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees jails in San Diego County.

Yesterday, the ACLU Foundation of California sent similar letters to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials responsible for overseeing its immigration detention facilities throughout the state, including the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Imperial County (Calexico).

“As our community grapples with the impact of COVID-19, it’s vitally important to respond to the health needs of people who are in federal, state and county custody. Whether they are in jails, prisons, immigration detention centers or juvenile hall, we must act swiftly to safeguard the health and safety of incarcerated people,” said Jonathan Markovitz, a staff attorney with the ACLUF-SDIC. “The letters we sent yesterday provide common-sense measures that the various agencies in charge should take to protect the health of people in their custody.”

Incarcerated people are highly vulnerable to contagious illnesses because they live in close quarters and because medical care in these facilities has been documented to be severely inadequate.

The ACLU letters cite several recommendations for reducing the threat of COVID-19, including reducing the population at these facilities through release on bond or parole. Agencies should also exercise discretion to halt or reduce the number of people who are newly arrested and detained. The ACLUF-SDIC stressed the necessity of humane, adequately equipped facilities to house people who get sick.

The letters cite other matters that should be addressed in an effective plan, including:

Education of people in custody and staff on how to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading the virus;
Provisions inside the facilities for both people in custody and staff to practice proper hygiene, including thorough hand washing, as prescribed by federal health officials;
Staffing plans for how the facilities can continue to operate if large numbers of staff are out sick;
Immediate testing of people in custody and staff who show any symptoms of infection; and
Implementation of additional precautions for anyone at high risk if infected, including pregnant people and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

The ACLUF-SDIC’s letters request written responses from officials by March 25, 2020.

Read the letters to officials here: