Even in the best of times, but especially now, we must take great care not to put in jail those who do not belong there. That is why on March 26, Clergy for a New Drug Policy was pleased to sign on to an open letter drafted by The Marijuana Policy Project: “Law Enforcement Officials, Medical Professionals, Clergy, and Cannabis Advocates Call for the Cease of Cannabis Arrests and Release of Incarcerated Cannabis Offenders in Light of COVID-19.” The letter notes that “prisons and jails are breeding grounds for infections and diseases due to close quarters and lack of ability to practice social distancing…all prisoners, whether young or old, are increasingly vulnerable to being infected with the novel coronavirus.” We believe this letter has relevance to all of you, regardless of where you live. In my community of Chicago, Cook County Jail has been cited nationally as a “death trap.” Close to 300 inmates are now infected, and 6 have died due to the virus. In response, the mission committee of my church assisted each member of the congregation in contacting our county commissioner. We asked that he urge the county board to “(1) release as many prisoners as possible immediately to prevent the spread of COVID-19, (2) create safer and more sanitary conditions inside the jail for the prisoners and guards who remain, and (3) provide adequate health care for those who become ill.” We also invited the members of our congregation to sign on to a petition urging Kim Foxx, our States Attorney, as the lead law enforcement officer for Cook County, to take additional steps to dramatically lower the number of people in the jail in response to COVID-19. Specifically we asked that she: (1) “Decline to file new charges in cases that do not involve danger to a specific person; (2) Agree to release most people seeking bond reviews from custody without payment of money; (3) Immediately dismiss all pending misdemeanors and class 4 felony cases not involving danger to a specific person, starting with cases in which people are in jail; and, (4) Cease filing violations of probation and violations of bail bonds for technical violations or reasons not involving danger to a specific person.” The MPP letter notes that “many localities – including Baltimore, Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; New Jersey; Los Angeles; and New York City – and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related offenses with the understanding that infections in prisons and jails are rampant, and releasing inmate could save the lives of not only inmates but also the custodial, medical, and safety staff that serve them.” It is my experience that individuals in churches often want to raise their voices in ways that will make a difference, but are not quite sure how. Contacting elected officials to urge them to take steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus among people being jailed for minor offenses, and those who work among them, is one important way we can protect the most vulnerable. Your local elected officials—including states attorneys, county commissioners, and sheriffs–will pay attention to you on this issue. Call and write to them now.
The proposed repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act threatens nothing less than the dismantling of our national Medicaid program. Instead of a federal mandate, Medicaid will be passed on to the states. Under proposed repeal and replacement, the designation of mental health and drug treatment will be eliminated as an essential health benefit for a broad range of very low-income families and individuals. When the must compete for state funds, these services will be the first to go.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides coverage for ambulatory services, hospitalization, emergency services, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative services, and other provisions. Repealing this care would eliminate health care for over 20 million Americans, including over one million children. Nearly 2.8 million would lose eligibility for substance abuse treatment. Republicans and Democrats across the country are expressing concern over these actions. Agencies like the Illinois Health and Hospital Association estimate that repeal without replacement would result in losses of up to $13.1 billion of economic activity equating to a potential maximum of 95,000 jobs loss. CNDP urges clergy persons and lay leaders to join in this action. Use the icons below to share this message with other religious leaders and take action by clicking the image above or the button below.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Once again, Illinois is on the cusp of providing civil enforcement, not criminal penalties, for the possession of low-level amounts of marijuana. SB 2228 (see fact sheet), which passed the General Assembly on May 18, now sits on Governor Rauner’s desk – for the second time. If Governor Rauner signs the legislation, Illinois would become the 21st state to stop jailing individuals for low-level marijuana possession. The General Assembly passed a similar bill over a year ago. The Governor blocked it with an amendatory veto. It is critical that Illinois clergy communicate to the Governor their strong, continued support for the current bill by signing the letter included here.
Clergy for a New Drug Policy believes in treating drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act provides funding to expand treatment programs for those struggling with addiction, as well as prevention programs for those at risk. This is a key piece of legislation that treats drug users with compassion, not punishment.