Supporting Incarcerated Survivors During COVID-19

JDI is offering guidance and resources for victim advocates on how to help people behind bars during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made accessing rape crisis support services extremely difficult — especially for survivors behind bars. JDI hears regularly from survivors who are feeling isolated, terrified, and desperate for support 

Advocates can help. While in-person visitation has been cancelled and staff are reducing prisoners’ ability to send and receive mail, it is possible for providers to maintain services and support their incarcerated clients.  

To help ensure that you can continue to provide support to your incarcerated clients during the pandemic, we advise the following: 

  • Be in regular contact with your local facilities to ask about current precautionary measures and how they might affect your work 
  • Remind your facility contacts of your commitment to maintaining services for your incarcerated clients 
  • Write a letter to your clients who are in detention facilities (if you haven’t already), letting them know what your agency can still offer during this time (see the letter template below)
  • Follow all facility rules and instructions related to the coronavirus  

Service provision considerations for your work with incarcerated survivors during the pandemic 

  • Check in with your facility contact to verify the status of access to mail and phones whether they are available for all prisoners, even during a lockdown  
  • Request that your program’s hotline contact information is visibly posted by phones​ throughout the facility and that your mailing address is also widely available, as applicable  
  • Focus on providing ongoing emotional support​ and help managing the increased anxiety many incarcerated survivors are experiencing  
  • Think about new and creative approaches. For example, some rape crisis programs are creating videos on self-care and coping skills for prisoners; the facilities they partner with are making these resources accessible via tablets and at kiosks in the housing units 
  • If you incorporate methods of service provision that were not in place before, such as videoconferencing or electronic messaging, discuss with facility contacts what level of confidentiality will be possible  

To help advocates navigate these challenging circumstances, JDI and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) recently hosted a virtual national discussion with victim advocates entitled,We are Still Here: Supporting Incarcerated Survivors During COVID-19.

During this virtual gathering, which you can view here, JDI and CALCASA staff provided an overview of the impact of the pandemic on people in custody, discussed ways to maintain services for incarcerated survivors during this time, and provided a space for advocates to share their innovative approaches 

During the virtual gathering, we also shared the following resources: 

If you would like to request technical assistance in support of your efforts to serve incarcerated survivors during the pandemic, please reach out to Cynthia Totten, Deputy Executive Director, at Thank you for your commitment to incarcerated survivors!

Check out JDI and CALCASA's webinar about the impact of the pandemic on people in custody, and how advocates can continue to provide crisis services behind bars.