ACLU Report: Prison Populations & COVID-19

Back in April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with academic researchers released a comprehensive epidemiological model that indicated how reducing jail populations would save lives both inside prisons, and in the wider community.

The issue of COVID-19 and incarceration is more relevant to the US than other countries – the United States has the largest prison population in the world. The ACLU report references this: even if we all follow social distancing rules and do what’s required of us, death rates will be higher if jail populations are not reduced. Part of the reasoning is that if we follow the data for infection rates in countries with substantially smaller prison populations, there is a real risk of underestimating potential loss of life.

The model assimilated data from over 1200 jails across the nation and researchers called for governors, sheriffs, prosecutors and law enforcement officers to use their powers to keep people out of jail and reduce detention numbers as quickly as possible.

The ACLU sees jails as ‘incubators’ of COVID-19, with social distancing virtually impossible and a ‘revolving door’ between detention centers and the wider community. The researchers made the numbers plain: failure to manage prison populations during the pandemic could lead to an additional 100,000 deaths across the US; 1,157 of them in our local community.

In the Silver State, Nevada Department of Corrections Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Minev, underscored how crucial it is to minimize COVID-19 cases in jails. The Clark County Detention Center is one of the jails mentioned in the ACLU report, which was published a week after LVMPD Sheriff Joe Lombardo successfully petitioned the Clark County District Court to reduce the prison population within his jurisdiction by 10 percent.

“The ripple effect of [a COVID-19] outbreak in the jail will endanger everyone in the community.”
– Sheriff Joe Lombardo, LVMPD

Is the message getting through on a national scale? A few days ago, a Massachusetts federal judge, District Judge William Young, slammed ICE officials for specific COVID-19 failings and ‘deliberate indifference’ to the health and safety of detainees. During the same week, social activist and rapper Common launched the #WeMatterToo movement, pressing for inmates with near-completed sentences, for example, to be screened and released.

During the pandemic, we’ve all had to learn new rules fast. Law-makers and decision-makers have had to do the same, issuing orders and directives based on research and projections.

As a community, we’ve risen to meet the challenge of COVID-19 and we’ll continue to do so. As your local community resource, if you need solid advice that you can count on about the issues raised here, or any other matter, Bighorn Law is here for you 24/7.