Vera Institute of Justice on White House COVID in Confinement Facilities Guidance

As part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the Biden-Harris administration recently announced $700 million in funding to support the detection and mitigation of COVID-19 in confinement facilities nationwide. The administration issued specific guidance for how that money may be spent. Funds may be used on policies and practices to safely reduce populations in jails and prisons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including those that divert people from confinement.

The Vera Institute of Justice issued the following response:

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vera has emphasized the importance of prevention and containment of the virus in the criminal legal system. We are encouraged to see the Biden-Harris administration recognize that the best COVID-19 mitigation strategy is to keep people from being detained in the first place by investing in diversion policies and practices. These could include providing pretrial services instead of detention and bail, counsel so people are more likely to be released, and housing assistance for young people who are unnecessarily detained in juvenile facilities.

The American Rescue Plan is an opportunity to upend the status quo of a system that has only been just for some. As state and local governments plan to spend their ARP dollars, they should consider a number of evidence-based solutions that meaningfully address community safety needs. The vast majority of people in the U.S. jails and prisons do not need to be detained for safety reasons, and the pandemic has made these settings, which lack basic public health infrastructure to prevent infection and spread, even less safe. We hope that ARP funding is the first step of many in investing in robust diversion services and addressing the dangerous conditions experienced by incarcerated people during the pandemic.

ARP funding should be used to better protect and care for the millions of incarcerated people and staff in the nation’s prisons and jails during this continuing health crisis.”

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