Early Jail Releases During Pandemic Didn’t Lead to Crime Spike: Study

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Photo by Alicia via Flickr.

A study of 29 U.S. cities has found no correlation between the early release of detainees from the cities’ jails due to COVID-19 fears and any increase in crime in those cities between March and May.

“The analysis confirmed that the amount by which a county changed their jail population wasn’t correlated with the amount of change in crime,” said the report by the American Civil Liberties Union, “Decarceration and Crime During Covid-19,” released Monday.

“We found no evidence of any spikes in crime in any of the 29 locations, even when comparing monthly trends over the past two years.”

The ACLU’s Analytics team looked for data on jail population and crime in locations with “the largest jail and overall populations,” using reported data from those 29 localities, which included Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

The researchers looked at “Part I” crimes only.

COVID-19 infection rates among prisoners have been 5.5 times higher than the U.S. population case rate, according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The ACLU found that “nearly every county jail that we examined reduced their population, if only slightly, between the end of February and the end of April.”

Over the same period of time, researchers say that “the reduction in jail population was functionally unrelated to crime trends.”

“In fact, in nearly every city explored, fewer crimes occurred between March and May in 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, regardless of the magnitude of the difference in jail population,” the report said.

The team said its findings were in line with recent reports that documented certain types of crime have gone down during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, which many have attributed to stay-at-home orders and decreased overall activity.

While political rhetoric may be putting the blame on early release from jails or prisons for a reported crime increase, no statistics have been released to support such claims.

COVID-19’s threat to the incarcerated has caused alarm in many quarters.

In its report, the ACLU said, “Since the pandemic began, more than 50,000 people in prison have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 600 have died.”

In early April, Attorney General William P. Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to expand the group of federal inmates eligible for early release and to prioritize those at three facilities in Louisiana, Connecticut, and Ohio where known coronavirus cases had grown precipitous.

Barr wrote in a memo to Michael Carvajal, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, that he was intensifying the push to release prisoners to home confinement because “emergency conditions” created by the coronavirus affected the ability of the bureau to function, according to The New York Times.

For its report, the ACLU looked at crime data individually for each city or county. Because each location’s crime dataset was drawn from separate sources and contained varying categorizations of crime, crime patterns could not be compared between cities.

The stats can be seen here.

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report

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