No need to wait for pandemics: The public health case for criminal justice reform
We offer five examples of policies that could slow the spread of a viral pandemic in prisons and jails – and would mitigate the everyday impact of incarceration on public health.
by Peter Wagner and Emily Widra
The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other nation in the world, so it is urgent that policymakers think about how a viral pandemic would impact people in prisons, in jails, on probation, and on parole, and to take seriously the public health case for criminal justice reform.
Below, we offer five examples of common sense policies that could slow the spread of the virus. This is not an exhaustive list, but a first step for governors and other state-level leaders to engage today, to be followed by further much-needed changes tomorrow.
Quick action is necessary for two reasons: the justice-involved population disproportionately has health conditions that make them more vulnerable — such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, and HIV — and making policy changes requires staffing resources that will be unavailable if a pandemic hits.
The incarcerated and justice-involved populations contain a number of groups that may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Protecting vulnerable people would improve outcomes for them, reduce the burden on the health care system, protect essential correctional staff from illness, and slow the spread of the disease.