Video Project Amplifies Jailed People’s Words, Liman Fellows’ Case

A COVID-19 outbreak in a Maryland jail at the core of a class-action lawsuit to which Liman Fellows contributed has inspired a media campaign highlighting the words of incarcerated people.

Gasping for Justice: Declarations from Prince George’s County Jail is an online campaign featuring videos based on firsthand accounts from people detained in the jail during the outbreak. The Civil Rights Corps — which includes Senior Attorney Katie Chamblee-Ryan ’12, a 2013–2015 Liman Fellow, and Attorney Olevia Boykin ’17, a current Liman Fellow — brought an emergency class action complaint against the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections in April. The suit alleged that the jail had ignored hygiene and social distancing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control during the pandemic.

The campaign brings attention to the case through videos of musicians, actors, activists, and attorneys reading aloud the sworn statements of more than 30 men detained at the jail during the pandemic. Readers include Reginald Dwayne Betts ’16, an acclaimed poet and memoirist as well as a Liman Senior Research Scholar, and James Forman Jr. ’92, the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

Visitors to the Gasping for Justice website hear the jailed men’s words: “I asked to get into the medical unit but they make you pay four dollars for the form and I don’t have money for that;” “I could barely breathe;” “I did not get fresh clothes for 13 days.” On the website, visitors can also read and film a sworn declaration, donate to the local bail fund, and volunteer to court watch. While the federal court case progresses, these stories, smuggled out through defenders, organizers, friends, and families, raised more than $20,000 to secure the release, and potentially save the lives, of the men and women suing the jail.

Gasping for Justice is a project of Hear Us, which describes itself as an “impact advocacy initiative that shares first-hand accounts of the human impact and cruelty of criminalization and incarceration.”

The Civil Rights Corps is a nonprofit organization dedicated to challenging systemic injustice in the American legal system.

Liman Fellowships are one component of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale Law School, which also promotes access to justice through research projects, teaching, and colloquia.