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COVID-19: Legal Aid Providers Must Lead Efforts For Immediate Release of People Trapped in Detention

Updated: May 7, 2020

As COVID-19 rapidly spreads in communities around the world, it is not a question of if, but when, COVID-19 will overwhelm our jails and prisons. With two decades of experience protecting detainees impacted by infectious diseases, natural disasters and conflict, and in coordination with our defenders around the world, the International Legal Foundation (ILF) has outlined urgent, concrete actions legal aid providers should take to protect our most vulnerable communities. We must do all we can to avert a looming public health catastrophe in the world’s detention facilities and prisons.

Advocates around the world agree that immediately reducing jail, prison and detention center populations is the best way to protect the most vulnerable people behind bars from COVID-19, as well as prison staff, court personnel and lawyers. However, rapid and effective implementation of these recommendations will take proactive interventions by skilled and resourced legal aid providers. Legal aid providers have long been in the vanguard of advocating for communities behind bars, and they are best positioned to guarantee due process and lead coordinated efforts to rapidly reduce prison populations.

"Defense lawyers hold the criminal justice system accountable to delivering justice for all. They defend their clients against abuse, they fight against inequality, and they ensure that laws in place to protect human rights are being used to protect our most vulnerable populations. We need legal aid providers now more than ever to ensure millions of people in overcrowded detention centers, jails and prisons around the world are not left alone and in danger."

Jennifer Smith, ILF Executive Director

The ILF has and will continue to serve as a resource for the international legal aid community. You can find our guidance for legal aid providers here. If you have questions about COVID-19 responses in the justice sector, please reach out to

Read more about our COVID-19 response here.


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