Giving Compass' Take:

• Deanna Van Buren and F. Javier Torres-Campos provide a bigger roadmap to coming up with solutions for mass decarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

• Are you ready to engage in decarceration efforts? What ongoing efforts could you support?

• Read more about the dangers of COVID-19 in prisons

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, US prisons and jails are drivers for the catastrophic outbreak of COVID-19. Because of dense living conditions, limited soap and hand sanitizer, poor access to quality healthcare, and an increasingly elderly population, the outbreaks we’ve seen so far may be just the beginning.

It’s no surprise that hundreds of municipalities are already working to meet the crisis by reducing prison populations, whether by identifying those incarcerated for misdemeanors, near the end of their sentences, or with special risk (pregnant inmates, those over the age of 60, or with underlying medical conditions). But as exciting as these efforts are, this moment requires that we imagine something more than a temporary solution to this pandemic. Without a long-term plan for true decarceration, at a larger scale, and the necessary infrastructure to support both returning citizens and their communities, we will inevitably backslide and refill these institutions. We need visionary solutions crafted in collaboration with the communities most impacted.

We believe that COVID-19 has amplified the desperate need for our systems to be radically reimagined.

A beginner’s roadmap for those of us in positions of power and privilege:

  • Question any impulse that prioritizes efficiency or profit at the expense of human life.
  • Recognize and accommodate the costs of participation for community members, including things like childcare, elder care, meals, transportation, and accessible interpretation services.
  • Compensate people for their time and intellectual and cultural capital. Remember that if a low-income resident is given a choice between attending an unpaid feedback session on a development project or going to the minimum-wage job they rely on to survive, they have no choice but to go to work. A simple solution would be to allocate resources that compensate community members for their intellectual contributions in the same way we compensate engineers for their expertise.

Read the full article about COVID-19 and mass decarceration by Deanna Van Buren and F. Javier Torres-Campos at Stanford Social Innovation Review.