Letter to Gov. Wolf

April 2, 2020

To Governor Wolf, Mayor Kenney, The First Judicial District, and Stakeholders of the Criminal Justice System:

It has come to our attention that our siblings locked in Philadelphia County Jails are exposed to COVID-19. As faith leaders serving the people of the City of Philadelphia, we urge you to immediately release these incarcerated adults, youth, and children to save their lives. In so doing, we affirm the request of the Defender Association of Philadelphia and the Defenders Union. We appeal to your conscience, humanity, and care for the people of this city.

As faith leaders, we affirm the sanctity of all human beings as we seek to provide moral and ethical guidance during this time of crisis. For many faith traditions, Spring is a season when believers reflect on the fragility of our humanity. Throughout our sacred texts, God calls us to protect and cherish human life. As mere mortals we have the ability to restore communities and change the human condition through faith and action.

COVID-19 presents the City of Philadelphia with a unique opportunity to demonstrate moral and ethical leadership. We urge you to exercise the authority of your position to act immediately before it is too late. As we seek to flatten the overall curve of this pandemic, we cannot forget the people who are most vulnerable. We must act now to save lives.

We call upon, you, the leaders of our State, City, and Courts to adopt the following measures:

1. Order the immediate release from Philadelphia County Prison and Juvenile Justice Services Center any person with a serious physical, mental, or behavioral health concern, where that health issue puts them at heightened risk due to the COVID-19 virus. During this health crisis, these health concerns would be better treated in the community.

2. Immediately release from the Juvenile Justice Services Center (“JJSC”) all children who are awaiting trial or placement.

3. Prior to April 3, 2020, hold a review hearing for any child held in placement post-adjudication to assess their suitability for discharge. Order the immediate release of all children held in placement post-adjudication for health concerns, technical violations and misdemeanors.

4. Order Department of Human Services and all Community Umbrella Agencies to immediately evaluate, if necessary, any child held in JJSC awaiting placement, review level of care recommendations and assess appropriate placements identified for youths being held at the JJSC, and release children to appropriate placements as soon as possible.

5. Order the immediate release of any person in custody awaiting release on pre-trial house arrest. Since March 12th, 2020, the pre-trial Electronic Monitoring Unit (“EMU”) has ceased operations and is no longer processing any pending house arrest petitions.

6. For any person held in county custody because their indigency prevents them from posting bail, order the immediate reduction of cash bail to ROR or SOB.

7. On March 17th, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Outlaw announced a policy to arrest and immediately release any person alleged to have committed any of a list of enumerated charges, to avoid creating unsafe conditions in the prisons. We call on the Court to order the immediate release from county prison any person currently held pretrial on any of those enumerated charges. We call on the Court to order the immediate release from prison, any person with less than six months remaining on their sentence where the crime they were convicted of committing does not fall within the list of enumerated charges. We call on the Court to order the immediate release from prison, any person who, if convicted of the crime they have been arrested for, would be eligible for a sentence of probation.

8. Order the immediate lifting of all probation detainers issued due to alleged direct violations, where the direct violation constitutes one of the enumerated charges in Commissioner Outlaw’s March 17, 2020 order or where a conviction of the alleged direct violation would make someone eligible for a sentence of probation.

9. Order the immediate lifting of all probation detainers issued due solely to alleged technical violations.

10. Establish and conduct emergency review of all motions for parole or early termination of probation, and liberally grant any application for parole or early termination of probation on an emergency basis in the interests of the health and safety of the defendant and the community. Order the immediate release of any person as soon as they have served their minimum sentence.

11. For all other detainers, rather than limit motions to lift detainers to a paper review as dictated in the Court’s Order No. 13 of 2020, on an expedited basis hold a hearing using all technological means to allow for meaningful review of the motion, and lift those detainers in accordance with the safety and health of the community and the defendant. Release the captives—our siblings—in the name of public health and safety.


Rabbi Linda Holtzman
Rabbi of the Tikkun Olam Chavurah

Raquel Saraswati
Chair, Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs
Co-Founder, Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity

Dr. Jeffrey Haggray
Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies
Judson Press

Rev. Shelby Haggray

The Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan
Pastor, St. Paul’s Baptist Church

The Rev. Dr. Valerie Bridgeman
Associate Minister, St. Paul’s Baptist Church
Founding President & CEO, WomanPreach! Inc.

Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart
Living Water United Church of Christ

The Rev. Dr. William Edward Flippin, Jr.
Assistant to the Bishop, Director of Evangelical Mission for Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod
(Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

The Rev. Karen M. Sease
ELCA pastor

The Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler
Mother Bethel AME
Church Clergy of POWER, Live Free, Gun Violence Prevention Team

Pastor Melanie DuBose
Evangel Chapel Church
Clergy of POWER, Live Free, Mass Incarceration Team

Rev. Laura Colee
Broad Street Ministry
Clergy of POWER

The Rev. Francys Johnson
Senior Pastor, Mount Moriah Baptist Church
Senior Pastor, Magnolia Baptist Church
Attorney at Law

The Rev. Hannah Capaldi
Minister of Faith Formation
First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

Schaunel Steinnagel
Associate Pastor, The Welcome Church

Rev. Jamie Eaddy
CEO of Thoughtful Transitions

Min. Brendan Van Gorder
St. Paul’s Baptist Church

Rev. Jacqueline Newsome
St. Paul’s Baptist Church