New Article: Mass Decarceration, COVID-19, and Justice in America

Posted by Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) on June 16, 2020

COVID-19 and the horrific murders of George Floyd and other black Americans have amplified the desperate need for the US justice system to be radically reimagined.

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.

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