Jail, Prison Population Decline Slows in New Analysis

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Pandemic-driven decreases in prison and jail populations have slowed, and even reversed in some states, the Prison Policy Initiative found in a new report.

An earlier report found that local governments at first acted swiftly to minimize jail populations, resulting in a median drop of more than 30 percent between March and May. But, from May through July 22, 71 percent of the 668 jails covered by PPI’s tracking showed population increases.

Releases from state prisons have been slower throughout the COVID-19 crisis. PPI found that since January, the typical prison system cut 5 percent of its population in May and 13 percent as of July 27.

PPI advocates a more urgent effort to spare prisoners of the risk of Covid-19.

“At a time when more new cases of the coronavirus are being reported each day,” the report said, “state and local governments should be redoubling their efforts to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails, where social distancing is impossible and the cycle of people in and out of the facility is constant.”

While some prison systems showed double-digit population drops since January, that could mask a practice of refusing to admit people from county jails, as in California and Oklahoma, PPI said.

And, despite showing an 11 percent population drop, California’s prisons remain well over their design capacity.

PPI said smaller state prison system have reduced their populations by the largest percentages, at least among states sharing data.

North Dakota, where PPI found “the most comprehensive and realistic COVID-19 mitigation plan in an April survey, topped the latest list with a 25 percent decrease. But that only represents 448 inmates in that relatively small system.

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