Giving Compass' Take:

• In light of the coronavirus, Peter Wagner and Emily Widra suggest five approaches to reducing the spread of viral pandemics in prisons. 

• How can we learn from the outbreak of the coronavirus to make adjustments in a variety of public health realms? What can you do to support adequate health policy in United States prisons?

• Learn more about the state of public health in the criminal justice system.

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.

  1. Release medically fragile and older adults. Jails and prisons house large numbers of people with chronic illnesses and complex medical needs, who are more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill and requiring more medical care with COVID-19.
  2. Stop charging medical co-pays in prison. Most prison systems have a short-sighted policy that discourages sick people from seeking care: charging the free-world equivalent of hundreds of dollars in copays to see a doctor.
  3. Lower jail admissions to reduce “jail churn.” About one-third of the people behind bars are in local jails, but because of the shorter length of stay in jails, more people churn through jails in a day than are admitted or released from state and federal prisons in 2 weeks.
  4. Reduce unnecessary parole and probation meetings. People deemed “low risk” should not be required to spend hours traveling to, traveling from, and waiting in administrative buildings for brief meetings with their parole or probation officers.
  5. Eliminate parole and probation revocations for technical violations. Reducing these unnecessary incarcerations would reduce the risk of transmitting a virus between the facilities and the community, and vice versa.

Read the full article about containing viral pandemics in prisons and jails by Peter Wagner and Emily Widra at Prison Policy Initiative.