Vera Institute of Justice Releases Comprehensive Coronavirus Guidance Briefs for Criminal & Immigration Justice System

Fact sheets released in response to growing need to prioritize the safety of people who live, work, and have contact with the system

NEW YORK, NY — Today, amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the Vera Institute of Justice, in partnership with Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS), has released five guidance briefs The five fact sheets—focusing on Police and Law Enforcement; Parole, Probation, and Clemency; Immigration; Prosecutors, Defenders, and Courts; and Jails, Prisons, Immigration Detention, and Youth Facilities—outline specific strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, contain it once people test positive, and respond swiftly to active cases while preserving due process for everyone.

Many people who have contact with the justice system are at high risk for contracting viruses and other infections, both because many of those who are incarcerated have serious chronic health issues and because the conditions in courts, police and immigration detention, and correction facilities create unique risks for disease transmission. Many people who are incarcerated are not allowed regular opportunities to wash their hands or to shower, and are not provided clean clothes or bedding. What’s more, even in times of crisis, people do not have regular free opportunities to call or speak with their loved ones. And many facilities are ill-equipped to manage serious medical issues.

With this in mind, all of the recommendations align with public health standards and Vera’s values of ending mass incarceration while ensuring the safety and human dignity of those who interact with and work in the justice system.

“As our country grapples with this unprecedented crisis, we cannot forget that incarcerated people are members of our community and are as deserving of care as all of our neighbors and friends,” said Nick Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “We hope that these briefs provide practical guidance for responding to this emergent health crisis and will allow those in power to reimagine how they seek justice. This is an important moment to highlight the need for shifting away from punitive practices that funnel people into our jails and prisons toward solutions that prioritize the health and safety of every individual.”

“COVID19 represents a grave and disproportionate threat to incarcerated people, and circulation of the virus in jails and prisons stands to drive the overall epidemic curve upward, especially for communities of color,” added Homer Venters, president of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services. “Reducing the number of incarcerated people—particularly those with COVID19 risk factors—is critical to enabling effective outbreak management behind bars and preventing jails and prisons from becoming national reservoirs of COVID19 infection. Emergency actions taken by federal, state, and local governments must contemplate how to reduce the number of people in detention as well as explicitly plan for hospital-level care for incarcerated patients who become ill, and the staffing resources to care for those who remain incarcerated.”

Cases of coronavirus have already been reported in police precincts, courts, jails, detention centers, prisons, and other places where the work of the criminal and immigration systems occur. Actors in these systems have a critical role to play. The importance of this role is underscored by how vast the footprint of these systems is: almost 10.5 million arrests a year, 2.2 million people in jail and prison at any given time, 50,000 in immigration detention, and another 4.5 million under some form of criminal justice supervision (mostly probation or parole). As the numbers of people infected in the United States grows exponentially, we need to focus on prevention and containment in the criminal and immigration legal systems.

About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

About Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS)

Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS) works to bridge the gap between correctional and community health systems. COCHS' major emphasis is to re-frame jail and prison health care not as a place separate from the rest of the community but as another healthcare delivery site within the community.

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