Giving Compass' Take:

• Jason Maderer tackles the complex issue of COVID-19 in prisons, explaining the crisis' potential long-term implications.

• How can you impact change in the aftermath of the virus? What are you doing to help those affected by COVID-19 in prisons?

• Learn more about why you should increase your giving today.

Because people in prisons and jails live in such close quarters, enforcing social distancing practices that health officials recommend to limit the virus spread isn’t feasible.

“When people are incarcerated in dormitory style situations, or in cells with multiple people—and then you add in the logistics of making sure inmates get fed and their other basic needs are met—there’s no distancing that can go on for any extended period of time,” says Daniel Nagin, professor of statistics and public policy in Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.

“Once this virus gets introduced into that kind of environment, it will inevitably spread, and then it can’t be controlled. The only way to stop that from happening is for the virus to not be introduced in the first place.”

That reality is leading many jurisdictions in the United States to take the unprecedented step of releasing large numbers of inmates to prevent coronavirus outbreaks. Nagin says he believes the decision to release inmates has merit, but isn’t without complications in practice.

In situations where the infection rate is currently low in a jail, the idea of releasing some number of inmates (and not admitting anyone else) remains sound public policy.

However, once the virus becomes well-established in a correctional facility, it becomes too late to release inmates responsibly, since sick individuals need quarantine and proper medical treatment.

The coronavirus outbreak could prompt police departments to create more non-physical mediation and de-escalation strategies that minimize physical contact and use of force. Such modifications, if proved effective, could last beyond the crisis period.

In addition to policing, Nagin says he believes the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic could result in various long-term changes to the country’s approach to incarceration, jails in particular.

Read the full article about COVID-19 in prisons by Jason Maderer at Futurity.