The coronavirus pandemic could explode within the walls of prisons and jails. And it could spread even further among those on parole. Although some states and facilities are taking action in these areas, it may be too little too late.
But there are still many things that officials can do. And they may want to follow the lead of two nonprofit organizations – Vera Institute of Justice in Brooklyn, NY, and Root & Rebound in Oakland, Calif. – which have put together excellent practical advice for them to follow in dealing with the prevention or spread of the coronavirus.
Vera Institute of Justice offers advice
Vera Institute of Justice has created a series of guidance reports for use by everyone from prison and immigration detention facility employees to parole and police officers. Each one provides nearly everything that can be done – within reason – to help prevent or contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities
Among actions for prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities, Vera Institute of Justice recommends that they:
- Release as many people as possible, especially inmates with a high risk of infection – those who are older, pregnant or have compromised immune systems. And those states that don’t allow discretionary releases should change their policies.
- Screen everyone entering the facility.
- Provide free hand-sanitizer and antibacterial soap, and wash clothing, sheets and towels more often.
- Use videoconferencing and email for staff briefings.
- Continue classes, jobs and recreational activities, but reduce group size.
- Create comfortable housing to separate those with symptoms of the virus and the actual disease, rather than put them in solitary confinement cells, which should not be used.
- Develop a staffing plan to handle employee shortages, and ensure that essential tasks will continue to be performed.
Parole and probation officers
Among recommendations for parole and probation officers:
- Don’t re-incarcerate those on parole for technical violations, such as missing a parole meeting or not passing a drug test.
- Terminate probation as soon as possible.
- Substitute in-person reporting with phone calls or videoconferencing.
- Suspend all supervision fees to account for lost wages.
- Create an individual emergency medical plan for those under supervision to prepare for the possibility that they may become infected.
- Train staff on how to respond if someone under their supervision has coronavirus symptoms or the disease itself.
Prosecutors, defenders and courts
Among recommendations for prosecutors, defenders and the courts:
- Don’t prosecute minor offenses, including drug possession and theft.
- Convert as many charges as possible to non-arrest charges.
- Reschedule court appearances for at least six months in the future.
- Create a website to resolve cases online instead of through in-court appearances.
- Judges should determine those on their detained dockets who can be released and make sure they are released.
Root & Rebound recommends changes in parole and probation practices
Meanwhile, last week Root & Rebound sent a call-to-action letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz and Division of Adult Parole Operations Director Jeffrey Green, as well government officials, all California county probation offices and county boards of supervisors.
The letter urges recipients to “modify parole and probation conditions, policies and practices during this public health crisis in order to protect public health and reduce unnecessary contact between people, which will save lives by slowing the transmission of COVID-19.”
Root & Rebound recommends that parole and probation:
- Suspend all in-person meetings, except in the case of an emergency. Telephone or videoconferencing should be used instead.
- Suspend all required classes or groups. Instead offer these on a voluntary or virtual basis.
- Suspend drug testing and other in-person requirements.
- Permit people under supervision to leave transitional housing and live with family members, thus reducing crowding and ensuring space for those with nowhere else to go.
- Create an emergency infrastructure that covers housing, financial assistance and community resources.
- Help people being released from prison and those under supervision find safe and healthy housing.
- Provide medical planning pre-release, and help ensure access to healthcare and prescription medications.
- Provide early termination of probation and immediate discharge from parole for those who meet specific requirements.
- Cease enforcement of technical violations, and release those already imprisoned for technical violations or inability to pay bail.
- Not issue violations to people who don’t charge their GPS/ankle monitors, since those who are homeless often use libraries and public spaces to recharge them, and those places are now closed.
Note: We are impressed by the lead that these organizations have taken and would love to hear about actions initiated by other nonprofits. If you are aware of any, please contact us.