Coronavirus Makes Bail Reform Efforts More Urgent

Written by on April 10, 2020

 This story is part of the SoJo Exchange of COVID-19 stories from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

By Emma Coleman | ROUTE FIFTY

While most Americans try their best to stay six feet apart from one another when out at the grocery store or pharmacy during the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing isn’t nearly as easy in jails and prisons. Already overcrowded before the Covid-19 crisis, correctional facilities have become the epicenter of outbreaks across the country, and one jail in Chicago has claimed the ignominious title of most cases linked to a single location, surpassing early epicenters like a Washington state nursing home and the cluster in New Rochelle, New York.

Criminal justice reform advocates are calling for jails to release most, if not all, pretrial detainees—meaning people who are accused of crimes and still awaiting trial—not only for their own safety, but also to protect the broader community that could catch the virus from correctional officers and other staff if more jails become outbreak vectors. But they face pushback from tough-on-crime lawmakers and the representatives of the bail industry, both arguing that sweeping release measures pose greater risks for safety than the public health benefits they might provide.

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