On any given day, there are 2.3 million people locked up in America’s jails and prisons and an additional 4.5 million people are on some form of community supervision such as probation or parole. During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals impacted by the criminal justice system are especially vulnerable.
Jails and prisons are never safe places but imprisonment during this public health crisis presents a uniquely dangerous risk of spread among individuals who cannot practice social distancing. In facilities without access to the necessary hygiene and cleaning supplies and a lack of basic medical care, people are at heightened risk of infection and death.
Even individuals who are serving their sentences in the community are facing significant challenges during this pandemic. Those on probation or parole supervision must meet certain requirements including paying fees and fines amidst a fiscal crisis or risk being incarcerated again. For others, a past felony conviction prevents them from accessing necessary support and resources during a critical time.
The impact of coronavirus on individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system extends to their families. Nearly half of the adults in America have had a family member incarcerated.
We know the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting communities of color who are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system. These existing disparities are concentrated and compounded in America’s system of mass incarceration.