Cases of coronavirus have quickly spread across 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. This 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, administrators, staff, and government actors need to focus on prevention and containment in the criminal and immigration legal systems.

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.

Vera is working to support government agencies as they change their practices in response to the coronavirus. Some of the most important changes that systems can implement include stopping arrests and immigration raids that put people into a system where they are incapable of protecting themselves; releasing people with discretionary release mechanisms and medical furloughs; and identifying people who have underlying conditions, are over 55 years old, or are pregnant, to immediately get them out of custody.