ACLU Launches Television Ad Campaign Calling for Release of Elderly and Vulnerable Inmates 'Before It's Too Late'

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a six-figure nationwide television ad campaign calling on U.S. residents to pressure government leaders to release elderly and medically-vulnerable inmates from prisons and jails across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Since the coronavirus reached the U.S., the ACLU and its state affiliates have filed more than 15 legal actions calling for the protection and release of people held at detention centers, prisons and jails across the country.

According to the ACLU, these efforts have so far led to the release of more than 10,000 people. However, with the U.S. criminal justice system estimated to hold almost 2.3 million people, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, the ACLU has said in a press release that "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 ACLU Deputy Political Director Udi Ofer in a statement shared with Newsweek.

Noting that "public health officials are recommending reductions in incarceration rates, recognizing that social distancing is nearly impossible in prisons, jails, and detention centers," Ofer said that "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," Ofer said.

Prison
A prisoner leans against a fence in the recreation yard of a Texas prison. The ACLU is calling on government officials to release prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty

The ads, which launched on Thursday and will run until next Wednesday on MSNBC, CNN and FOX News, as well as on "all of the key Sunday shows this weekend", in the key political markets Washington D.C., Hartford, Connecticut, Oklahoma City, and Richmond, Virginia, includes two ads.

The first ad features the voice of an unidentified woman calling for the release of her sister Elaine, who has been incarcerated for 10 years and who has diabetes and is therefore considered medically vulnerable.

"She has diabetes and is recovering from a recent surgery," the unidentified woman can be heard saying as photos of her and her sister play across the screen. "If this virus hits her prison, given her age, I worry she may not survive. I'm just terrified. Please don't let me sister die in prison."

The second ad is a joint effort with the Union Theological Seminary, non-denominational Christian seminary in New York City, calling on U.S. residents to help save the lives of medically vulnerable and elderly people by holding their officials to account.

"Leaders at all levels of government must prevent this pandemic from worsening into a humanitarian crisis in our communities by reducing populations in prisons, jails, and detention centers," Ofer said.

"We must save the lives of people who the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has identified as most vulnerable to infection. We can and should seize this opportunity to combat the virus' spread, and save lives."