COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration / Crisis and Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented global challenge that is impacting the daily lives of all Americans. The pandemic’s dire consequences — including infection, illness and the tragic deaths of thousands — will disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals behind bars. Rapid action is critical to save the lives of people in correctional facilities and immigration detention.

FJP’s COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration resources aim to identify innovative thinking and best practices for elected prosecutors and other criminal justice leaders responding to COVID-19, as well as the challenges they face. A prosecutor’s obligation to keep the community safe extends behind prison gates and with this fast-moving virus, prosecutors and other leaders must act now to protect the health and safety of those who are incarcerated and the entire community.

COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration: Crisis at a Glance 

Immediate action is necessary to halt the rising death toll in correctional and detention facilities across the United States. And COVID-19 outbreaks in jails and prisons don’t just threaten those inside – the wildfire spread of this infection also endangers staff and personnel who come and go from these facilities, as well as their families and the broader community. This resource provides an overview of the scale and nature of the crisis within those facilities, and answers frequently asked questions about why COVID-19 outbreaks in these densely populated settings are so dangerous. (Updated August 28, 2020)

COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration: Innovations and Solutions at a Glance

Elected prosecutors hold enormous power within the justice system; their engagement is vital to saving lives during the COVID-19 crisis. This resource offers insights into trends and promising practices among reform-minded 21st Century Prosecutors responding to COVID-19 — with a focus on decarceration — and also answers frequently asked questions. (Updated August 28, 2020)

COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration: Voices from Inside 

This resource highlights firsthand accounts from individuals behind bars, their families and loved ones, and staff in these facilities. It underscores the human toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the tremendous anxiety and terror experienced by all of these individuals. (Updated August 28, 2020)

COVID-19 and Mass Incarceration: Key Resources

This selection of resources from around the nation features policy guidance for justice system stakeholders with an emphasis on how to decarcerate and promote public health and safety, as well as useful documents and websites tracking policy changes, outbreak hot spots, and litigation. (Updated August 28, 2020)

COVID-19 and Improving Conditions of Confinement

As prosecutors pursue critical decarceral strategies in response to the threat posed by COVID-19, they should simultaneously take steps to ensure that people who remain in custody receive recommended public health protections, access needed treatment and healthcare, and are afforded their full constitutional rights. FJP’s new “Issues at a Glance” brief examines how prosecutors can promote these steps in partnership with community and correctional leaders, justice system stakeholders, and public health officials, and spotlights examples of prosecutorial leadership and innovation on these issues.

“You can’t tell us to social distance and throw six men in a 15-by-15-foot cubicle…. They won’t let us outside. People are sick, coughing, not able to breath, and we are piled on top of each other…. I’m mad; I’m terrified.”
– Incarcerated person at Oakdale Prison

COVID-19 and Youth Justice Issues

No children belong in prison – especially during a pandemic. Conditions were poor in youth correctional facilities prior to the onset of the coronavirus virus, but now young people behind bars face additional trauma, medical risk, and dangerous isolation. While significant progress has been made in reducing the number of children who are incarcerated, far too many children remain locked up. Prosecutors have a mission to promote safe and healthy communities, and that includes protecting children who come into contact with the criminal legal system. Read more about what District Attorneys have done and can do to protect young people in our latest “Issue at a Glance” brief.

“These concerns are dire. There is no time to delay – waiting even a few days can be the difference between getting young people out of a facility before anyone there is infected versus the much greater challenge of responding amid widespread transmission within a facility. It is imperative that DAs, along with other leaders, act now to protect the health and safety of young people who are incarcerated and the entire community.”

COVID-19 and the Criminal Justice System: Reducing and Avoiding Incarceration During a Pandemic

The spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails across the US puts the health and safety of communities everywhere at risk. In this “Issues at a Glance” brief, FJP examines the important role prosecutors can play in mitigating this public health crisis by reducing jail and prison populations not only in the immediate term – when lives are at stake and the death toll is mounting – but also into the future. The brief offers concrete recommendations for how prosecutors can promote these approaches and spotlights specific examples of actions taken by elected prosecutors around the nation to protect the health and safety of all members of their community.

“We all have a responsibility to try to stem the spread of COVID-19. Releasing individuals who do not pose a danger to the public can prevent them from being exposed in prison, create a safer environment for those who remain there, and help protect our entire community during this pandemic.”
– Durham County (NC) District Attorney Satana Deberry

Lessons From Germany: Avoiding Unnecessary Incarceration and Limiting Collateral Consequences

The U.S. incarceration rate is nine times that of Germany – and we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Read more about lessons to be learned from Germany’s sensible and proven approach to incarceration in our issue at a glance brief here.