Justice Groups Urge Public Health Approach in Pandemic

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A coalition of organizations has issued a report calling for a public health approach to criminal justice issues during the coronavirus pandemic. Topping the groups’ list is the release of prisoners “based on clear public health recommendations and release criteria … to limit the spread of disease.” They says that tens of thousands have been released from jails, with advocates hoping that jail populations overall can be cut between seven and 30 percent. Releases from state prisons have been slower but started to increase in April, including in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Ohio. The groups urge the parallel policy of limiting new admissions to all “closed correctional settings.” They contend that violations of COVID-19-related directives and orders “should be addressed with a public health approach, rather than with criminalization and law enforcement surveillance.”

The organizations argue that existing innovations emphasizing the integration of public health priorities into the justice system may help local jurisdictions, including specialty courts, evidence-based models of correctional health care, and dedicated inmate re-entry services. The groups conclude that “connections among public health organizations, researchers, and criminal justice stakeholders are necessary to manage health crises in custodial settings and should endure beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.” The new report was written by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, Community Oriented Correctional Health Services, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, and the UCLA School of Law’s Criminal Justice Program.

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