WASHINGTON, DC – FWD.us Senior Director of Criminal Justice Reform Zoë Towns issued the following statement on a recent memo highlighting voter support of public health strategies that reduce jail and prison populations:
“In this unprecedented pandemic, jails, immigration detention centers, and prisons are incubators and accelerators of COVID-19. The public officials who act boldly and swiftly to reduce incarcerated populations will be doing so for the betterment of the public’s safety and public health, and also with broad voter support.
“This new polling demonstrates that voters across ideology support public health strategies that would dramatically reduce the number of people behind bars. It comes at a moment when prison employees are beginning to test positive for this deadly virus. Sixty-six percent of likely voters, including 59% who identify as “very conservative,” believe elected officials should be working to reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails as a response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Without a commitment to ambitious criminal justice system remedies, the goal of flattening the curve through social distancing, limiting small gatherings, and business and school closures will be blunted – so long as incarcerated people remain crowded into unhygienic correctional facilities with inadequate medical care and hundreds of thousands of staff and venders cycling through daily.
“Urgent action is needed by local, state, and federal criminal justice policymakers, and voters agree.”
Polling released today by The Justice Collaborative, R Street Institute, and FWD.us demonstrates strong, cross-ideological support for bold action by state, local, and federal leaders to significantly reduce jail and prison populations to slow the spread of coronavirus. The public opinion research was conducted from March 16, 2020 to March 17, 2020 by Data for Progress in a survey of 2509 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents.
Sixty-six percent of likely voters, including 59% who identify as “very conservative,” believe elected officials should be working to reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails as a response to coronavirus. Another action voters strongly supported was releasing individuals who are within six months of completing their sentence.
As communities across the nation confront the devastating impacts of this rapidly progressing pandemic, correctional staff are beginning to test positive. Yesterday, a doctor at a Wisconsin prison tested positive after having exposed an estimated eleven healthcare workers and eighteen incarcerated individuals. News is breaking of similar cases in facilities across the country.
Public health and correctional health experts agree that jails and prisons will serve as dangerous incubators to the coronavirus because of the confined spaces, inadequate conditions, and inability to ensure basic hygiene and cleaning of the facilities. In addition, many incarcerated people are elderly or suffer from underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.