COs, unions call on U.S. governors to protect prisons, jails from COVID-19

COs and union leaders are demanding PPE, hazard pay, sick leave and temporary suspension of transfers and admittance of non-security or non-medical personnel

By Sarah Calams

LANSING, Mich. — Correctional officers and union leaders are pleading with governors across the United States to act immediately to limit the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, jails and detention facilities.  

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions in the U.S., partnered with the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO) and One Voice, a group of labor unions, CO staff, criminal justice reform leaders, academics and policy makers, to demand action is taken to protect COs and inmates against COVID-19.  

"Correctional officers and staff are essential frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, but we're being asked to perform our duties with inadequate protections," Andy Potter, founder of One Voice, said. "The 24/7 nature of corrections makes it a critical profession where staff cannot simply stay at home with their families and self-isolate and are instead asked to perform their duties, often with limited or no protections." 

Potter, who's also the executive director of MCO and chair of the SEIU corrections council, co-authored a letter to the National Governors Association.  

The letter called on governors to: 

  • Provide PPE to all correctional staff 

  • Suspend transfers and admittance of non-security or non-medical personnel temporarily 

  • Provide hazard pay and paid sick leave for correctional staff 

  • Provide daily updates to correctional staff 

  • Include correctional staff in ongoing COVID-19 planning discussions  

recent One Voice survey, which was launched to capture how correctional officers and facilities are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, found that an alarming number of facilities are unprepared

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