A PROCLAMATION OF
Like most of the rest of the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought changes to our office, or rather brought us away from our office. COVID-19 has changed the stakes for our clients, so we must adapt. We must do our best to find opportunity during this time of chaos.
During March, our office staff shifted to remote work. Our summer internship program switched to a 100% virtual format, with interns working from all over the country. Our events were moved online – including our Faces of Innocence gala, which had record-breaking "attendance".
Even with virtual opportunities to expand beyond our geographic region, there are times when virtual fails us – jails and prisons are woefully under-equipped for virtual contact, and we’ve been unable to visit incarcerated clients in person.
“We were working on a case where we really wanted to go door to door to talk to witnesses, but we just weren’t in a position where it felt safe doing that,” said Katy Westhoff, a 2020 intern who is still helping with our DNA casework. “We had to do a lot of our investigative work online. On the other hand, I think we actually got some opportunities we wouldn’t have had in person. There was a motion for a new trial being argued in court that we got to sit in on, even though it was in another state.”
In April, when we argued on behalf of Lamar Johnson to the Missouri Supreme Court, it was the first time in the court’s history it had heard a case virtually.
Still, no matter how much flexibility we’ve enacted, no matter how much we pivot, there are still grave implications of how this pandemic will affect justice long-term.
“Clients could die,” said MIP executive director Tricia Rojo-Bushnell. “Stories will be lost. And justice might be harder to reach. Think about if you’re waiting for a trial, and the trial keeps getting delayed. What if your alibi is your grandparents, and they are at risk because of Covid-19? There are real questions of how much is going to be lost, because we as a country didn’t respond to this pandemic effectively.”
During a time when in-person interactions are more limited than ever, we’ve had to think differently about how we can still pursue justice in our current world.
It's hard to think of anything that hasn't dramatically changed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, including our work – coronavirus has decimated prisons, leaving our clients in fear for their lives; investigations and interviewing witnesses have become more complicated – a witness could die before providing a formal statement. Innocent lives are literally on the line while our clients wait for the justice they deserve.
A CALL FOR
COVID-19 has not just necessitated flexibility in our work— it’s also forced us to call for change where it’s needed in the face of the pandemic.
Coronavirus has decimated prisons. An airborne, highly contagious virus, combined with prison conditions (lack of social distance, lack of adequate healthcare, poor nutrition, and a population more likely to have preexisting conditions) has been the perfect, horrific storm.
The first person to die of COVID-19 in prison — Rudolph Sutton — had actual innocence claims.
At MIP, we’ve called for the compassionate release of pre-trial individuals and others, to help slow the spread of COVID-19 among tightly-packed populations with little access to healthcare.
Prisons and jails are full of human beings. Hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people in America have not even been convicted of a crime: they’re simply waiting for trial. Entire populations in this country are being destroyed by a virus when they don’t have to be.
What Can You Do to Help?
Join us in calling and writing to your legislators, sheriffs, governors, prosecutors, and other elected officials, to ask for decarceration. Ask for funding of adequate healthcare for those who are incarcerated.