COVID-19 and Civil Liberties

Ensuring 'We The People' Means All Of Us

COVID-19 has presented all of us with unprecedented challenges. It is as important as ever before that We the People include all of us. This novel coronavirus does not discriminate, and it will not be defeated without deliberate collective action.

The ACLU and COVID-19

We are monitoring the actions of Kentucky's state and local officials to ensure they are taking actions that are based in science and do not infringe on the civil rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in Kentucky. We are currently working with public officials and other advocacy groups to ensure the health, safety, and civil liberties of all, especially the most vulnerable among us. Click on the subjects below to learn more about our COVID-19 response in different issue areas.

Learn about ACLU's national COVID-19 response

1. COVID-19 in Kentucky Jails and Prisons

Q.COVID-19 in Kentucky Jails and Prisons

Kentucky's jails and prisons have been called a petri dish for COVID-19.

Incarcerated people and corrections officers have already tested positive in different jails and prisons throughout the Commonwealth. The dangerous levels of overcrowding in our jails and prisons have killed people before. More people will die if public officials do not take swift actions to reduce overcrowding and protect incarcerated people and corrections officers from COVID-19.

From policing, prosecution, and pretrial hearings, to sentencing, confinement, and release, every aspect of the system must come under intense scrutiny for its response to this national public health crisis. We are calling on state and local corrections officials to adopt the following measures:

  • Decrease arrests
  • Pre-trial release
  • Waive Fines & Fees
  • Compassionate Release
  • Consideration of Release
  • Waive Phone Call Fees During Suspension of In-Person Visitation
  • Proper Hygiene & Sanitization Procedures
  • Reduction in Incarceration for Probation & Parole Supervision
  • Publication of COVID-19 Testing and Isolation Data in Prisons and Jails

We are working with public officials to address this issue.

  • March 30, 2020: Written recommendations to public officials from ACLU-KY Smart Justice Field Organizer Amanda Hall. Read here.
  • March 30, 2020: Coalition letter to Governor Andy Beshear with written recommendations for making jails and prisons safer for incarcerated people and corrections employees. Read here.

  • April 1, 2020: Letter in response incarcerated people placed in quarantine from ACLU-KY Legal Director Corey Shapiro. Read here.

2. COVID-19 and Youth Detention

Q.COVID-19 and Youth Detention

Kentucky's kids must be safe, no matter where they are.

States across the country are taking steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as closing schools, canceling events, and shifting to remote support services; however, one group of young people has been left behind: the nearly 50,000 youth in custody in the United States. We are calling on the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice to adopt the following measures:

  • Immediately halt new admissions to juvenile detention and correctional facilities and initiate the removal of youth from juvenile detention and correctional facilities

  • Ensure knowledge of healthcare resources, continued access to education, access to counsel, and unlimited free phone calls to family and support network while visitation is suspended, for youth who remain in detention

  • Create transitional plans for youth released from custody

  • Modify rules for youth on probation to reduce incarceration, increase access to healthcare, and allow for maximum social-distancing

  • Expand community-based programs for youth in the justice system by investing $5 million so that they are effectively supported in their communities

  • Address the economic instability caused by COVID-19 by implementing a moratorium, effective immediately, on the assessment and collection of all fines and fees

Read more about these measures in our letter to the Department of Juvenile Justice in the PDF below:


3. Free, Fair, and Safe Elections

Q.Free, Fair, and Safe Elections

Kentucky's primary elections have been rescheduled to June 23, 2020.

Register to Vote

  • Register to vote at by May 26, 2020, to cast a ballot in the primary election on June 23, 2020
  • Do you have a past felony conviction? You may be eligible to vote! Find out if you are eligible here (click on the "Check Your Status" box). Learn more about restoration of voting rights here.

Free, Fair, and Safe Elections

We are closely monitoring the situation and have made specific recommendations to the State Board of Elections to ensure all eligible voters are able to safely and easily participate in the upcoming election:

  • Ensure all county clerks and poll workers are fully supported and staffed
  • Allow all eligible voters to vote-by-mail without requiring an excuse
  • Allow early voting for at least 14 days before the election, including on at least one Saturday and at least one Sunday
  • Implement health safety measures at polling places to allow social distancing
Read more about these recommendations in our letter to the Board of Elections in the PDF below:

4. Abortion Care is Essential Care

Q.Abortion Care is Essential Care

Abortion remains legal in Kentucky and you can still get an abortion in Kentucky. No government should ever have the authority to force a person to remain pregnant against their will.

House Bill 451

Lawmakers are trying to use this public health emergency to block all access to abortion in Kentucky. The Kentucky Senate advanced House Bill 451 at the end of March. HB451 would allow the Attorney General to oversee medical facilities or medical providers that perform abortions. Healthcare providers are already under the supervision of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which actually has the expertise to oversee these types of facilities.

HB451 is a blatant power grab to enact the General Assembly's and Attorney General's anti-abortion agendas, as evidenced by the fact that the Attorney General's oversight role is not being expanded for anything other than abortion providers.

Read the testimony we submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding House Bill 451 in the PDF below:

Attorney General

The Attorney General is attempting to ban abortion by requesting Cabinet for Health and Family Services Acting Secretary Eric Friedlander certify that Kentucky’s abortion providers are violating a ban on elective medical procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trusted health organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have made clear, politicians should not push ‘COVID-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures.’ It is a time-sensitive service for which a delay may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. Everyone’s situation is different and it is critical that people be able to make their own decisions about continuing or ending a pregnancy.

Read our statement on the Attorney General's actions here.