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As states across the country are seeing a resurgence in the spread of COVID-19, it is more imperative than ever that Governors take decisive action to slow the spread of the virus by drastically reducing the size of their jail and prison populations. A white paper released by the Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress earlier this month finds that we must prioritize decreasing our incarcerated population and increasing our investment in reentry services, services that are vital to the success of people that are returning to society.
The white paper, authored by Brie Williams, a Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco Division of Geriatrics, and Leann Bertsch, the Director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, outlines the ways in which jails and prison pose a unique threat to public health, a threat that we, as a society, have failed to take seriously enough. The authors push back against the use of housing, which can sometimes be an obstacle to reentry, as an excuse to not decarcerate; many of those that are in custody are able to secure housing on their own. They further argue that while housing and other reentry services are desperately needed, a large network of existing programs can be expanded upon using creative solutions and increased funding. Not only is investing in reentry services crucial to the success of those returning home from incarceration, but it is also a matter of life and death for those forced to remain behind bars instead of being released.
The white paper comes on the heels of recent data analysis by The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress that showed just how dire the situation is for incarcerated people across the country, particularly those that are housed in rural jails. Twelve percent of the national jail population and over one-third of the jail population in some states are housed in counties without any ICU beds. Approximately 5 percent of the total jail population is housed in counties without any hospital at all. In light of the very real threat that COVID-19 poses to the health of those that are in custody, it is more important than ever that to decarcerate and invest in reentry services to ensure the success of those returning to the community.
Read the entire white paper here.