How State Prisons Are Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Sean R. Francis, M.S.

President, Justice Solutions of America, Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have caught the entire world off guard but nowhere is that more apparent than in our nation’s jails and prisons. Indeed, the recent outbreak has placed a number of measures, once considered unthinkable, on the table in an attempt to halt the virus’ spread inside secure institutions. This blog will explore exactly what is being done and what measures are being considered.

Because of the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, many cities and states are reducing admissions to county jails and preventing the constant recycling of people as they come in and out of jails.  https://www.prisonpolicy.org/virusresponse.html

Police are accomplishing this by simply citing low-level offenders instead of arresting them. Other cities have stopped responding to non – violent, low-level crimes. Some states have halted vehicle inspections.  https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/live/coronavirus-covid19-philadelphia-pennsylvania-new-jersey-confirmed-case-updates-news-20200317.htmlhttps://www.wtvr.com/news/coronavirus/virginia-state-police-will-stop-motor-vehicle-inspection-enforcement-over-covid-19-outbreak

Additionally, in recognition of the significant challenge COVID-19 poses to the community at large, but to an incarcerated community specifically, prosecutors in some states and cities have begun dismissing low-level offenses such as drug, prostitution and trespassing charges. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/virusresponse.html

In another measure to combat COVID-19 multiple states around the country are actively considering releasing non-violent offenders rather than keeping them incarcerated and some have already begun to do so. This is unheard of in recent times. https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/03/19/bay-area-courts-authorities-ramp-up-release-of-inmates-to-stem-covid-19-risks-in-jails/

COVID – 19 also means life will also become more difficult for many offenders in our nation’s prisons. Personal, conjugal and legal visits have been almost completely halted. Therefore, those that are left behind bars will face a greater challenge in maintaining ties to the community, a proven tool to reduce recidivism. They will also lose access to their attorneys which will prevent many from mounting an adequate defense and raise significant constitutional issues.

As if this were not enough, many prisons have completely halted transfers and refused to admit new offenders into their institutions. Thus, sentenced offenders in county jail, a miserable place to be under any circumstances, will be held there indefinitely for the time being.

Also, many prisons have suspended most inmate movement and greatly reduced such essential programing services like recreation and education. Therefore, our nation’s prisons, a dangerous place on any given day, could become a powder keg as inmates with years to serve now have nothing to do but sit in their housing units and stare at the walls. Some prison wardens have openly voiced concern about the prospect of riots and losing control of their institutions. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/fearing-outbreaks-riots-nations-prison-jail-wardens-scramble/story?id=69676840

COVID -19 presents a significant challenge to us all but nowhere is that more apparent than in our nation’s prisons. If you have a loved one who is incarcerated contact us today to see what we can do to help and ensure their safety.Mar 23rd, 2020

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