Santa Rita Jail Hotline: Volunteer Questions

Since early this year, the coronavirus pandemic has infected thousands of people in the Bay Area and has profoundly changed life as we know it, both in and out of custody: from the ability to go out in public, to the right to a speedy trial.We also know that conditions inside Santa Rita Jail were at a crisis point long before coronavirus entered the jail in April. These conditions plus the increase in isolation have made life more difficult for everyone whether or not they are sick.

The National Lawyers Guild is offering a free hotline to anyone who would like to discuss the coronavirus or conditions inside Santa Rita Jail.

Please read more about the need for this hotline and answer a few questions about yourself. Thank you!

Since early this year, the coronavirus pandemic has infected thousands of people in the Bay Area and has profoundly changed life as we know it, both in and out of custody: from the ability to go out in public, to the right to a speedy trial.We also know that conditions inside Santa Rita Jail were at a crisis point long before coronavirus entered the jail in April. These conditions plus the increase in isolation have made life more difficult for everyone whether or not they are sick.

The National Lawyers Guild is offering a free hotline to anyone who would like to discuss the coronavirus or conditions inside Santa Rita Jail. Please read more about the need for this hotline and answer a few questions about yourself. Thank you!


The Need for a Hotline



As a complement to legal work: A Santa Rita Jail hotline represents an expansion of work that advocates are currently doing: by taking phone intakes from prisoners, and connecting with prisoners’ family members and appointed attorneys. The hotline represents an opportunity to build solidarity with prisoners, and to create relationships that are community-based in addition to the one-on-one relationships that are created between attorneys and their clients. Additionally, prisoner organizing does not always fit neatly into the scope of litigation or appeals processes. A hotline will create greater accountability for advocates, prevent prisoners from “falling through the cracks,” and facilitate communication between legal and movement work.


Lack of transparency: During the COVID-19 crisis, there is a desire to get information to prisoners about their rights and to be an outlet for reporting what kind of changes are happening in the jails that are limiting the rights of prisoners. As public hearings on COVID-19 in Santa Rita decrease in length and frequency, less information is available to the public, despite ongoing reports by prisoners that jail conditions are unsanitary, guards fail to observe appropriate social distancing, and that care, when provided, is minimal or punitive.


To organize around the needs of prisoners and their families: A Know Your Rights hotline would serve as an important touchstone for people – inside and out – who are looking to organize or seek help regarding their conditions of confinement. It would relieve prisoners and their families from the time and effort spent casting a wide net for anyone who will listen. It requires coordination and relationship-building between attorneys and advocates in order to meet ethical standards, and to protect prisoners from retaliation – work that will ultimately serve to strengthen outside support for prisoners’ movements. In addition, it can support coordination across campaigns about emergency as well as on-going conditions in Santa Rita jail, for releases and for a shift in budget priorities towards alternatives to incarceration.


To share testimony: Many prisoners have asked - over the phone and in legal visits - for advocates to leverage the media in order to make the terrible conditions inside the jail public knowledge. A project that can effectively and ethically engage with and create media is more critical than ever. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has largely regained control of the “public safety” narrative. Local news outlets are giving airtime to ACSO spokespeople rather than impacted people, and running inflammatory headlines daily about recent releases from Santa Rita. And after encountering strong resistance to decarceration from the county, many advocacy groups have subsequently focused their attention either on lobbying public officials or on “triage.” While both are necessary, there is a conspicuous absence: an outlet for prisoners and family members who are struggling to make their stories heard in addition to the voices of service providers, activists, lawyers and advocates.

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