Strategies for reducing COVID-19 exposure by revising the implementation of registration policies, housing banishment laws, and other restrictions impacting people with convictions
MARCH 28, 2020 – We join numerous criminal justice organizations that have issued policy recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by suspending or eliminating non-essential police and court functions, while ensuring that law enforcement resources are used wisely to keep communities safe.
This guidance focuses on policies affecting people listed on sex offense registries. More than 900,000 Americans are subject to registration and/or housing banishment laws. The nature of these rules and regulations and the enormous number of people who must comply with or enforce them, raise urgent concerns about public health and resource allocation in this extraordinary time.
During the registration process, people are typically required to fill out forms stating their address, employer, school, phone number, vehicle data, etc. and to return, in person, to report even trivial changes.These cumbersome registration processes tie up sworn officers who could instead be investigating crime, attending to emergencies, and assisting people in crisis.
Housing banishment laws often prohibit people from residing in the vast majority of residential areas of a city or town. As a result, those with stable homes, or several housing options, frequently become homeless anyway. This false scarcity of housing also increases prison populations as people have no legally authorized home in which to serve their parole or probation.
Even before COVID-19, the unintended consequences of these policies were well documented. The current pandemic, however, adds urgency to revise current registry and banishment practices as many of them undermine the critical public health measures being implemented nationwide to contain its spread.
The following strategies would reduce COVID-19 exposure among law enforcement officials and those required to register, as well as their families at home, and the broader community:
States around the country have responded intelligently to the problem:
Pennsylvania: COVID-19 Public Web Alert