COVID-19: archived resources

The following resources that we and our partners have produced about COVID-19 and the criminal justice system used to be on our main COVID-19 page. We have archived them on this page in case readers need to find them in the future.

Our work:

Our visuals

We've created several powerful infographics illustrating prisons' failure to protect incarcerated people during the pandemic, including:

  • Our 50-state map showing that few states made significant efforts to reduce prison populations between early 2020 and July 2021
  • A three-year chart showing that the number of people released from state prisons each month has been falling since 2019, in at least 10 states with available release data

For more, see a full list of maps and visualizations describing the dire state of the pandemic in prisons and jails.

Medical research:

  • Multiple medical journals have published articles calling for reducing prison and jail populations, as well as implementing other policies, to slow down the coronavirus. These include the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the New England Journal of Medicine, and Health Affairs.
  • In a report published in April, the ACLU — in collaboration with researchers at Washington State University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Tennessee — found that if jails continued to operate as usual, the number of U.S. fatalities due to COVID-19 could increase by another 100,000. They recommended swift intervention at multiple levels of government to reduce jail populations and prevent the number of fatalities in the U.S. from doubling.
  • A July CDC study on COVID-19 testing in prison had two major findings. First, testing people who had had contact with the virus identified more people who were positive for COVID-19 than just testing people experiencing symptoms. Second, the researchers found that serial (repeated) testing of people helped identify people who were asymptomatic; this allowed for early detection, isolation, and treatment, which slow the transmission of the virus. States should not just test the incarcerated population and correction staff once; to save the most lives in and out of prison, states need to be regularly testing all incarcerated people and staff, regardless of the presence of symptoms.
  • Health Affairs published an article in April recommending ways to protect and support people released from custody during the pandemic.
  • In early September, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice released a report that found the rate of COVID-19 cases in prisons was more than four times that of the general population and the COVID-19 mortality rate in prisons was twice as large as that of the general U.S. population.

Data and information aggregators:

  • The UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project is tracking the spread and impact of the novel coronavirus in American carceral facilities, with state by state data on case numbers, fatalities, and more. Data from the project is available on both an interactive website and a comprehensive Google Sheet.
  • The State Prison COVID-19 Risk Tracker, created by the Litmus Program at the NYU Marron Institute, is a census of state adult correctional and detention facilities with an interactive mapping tool of county-level data on COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths, showing which facilities are located in or near counties that are at high risk for community transmissions of COVID-19.
  • The Fines and Fees Justice Center is actively tracking federal, state, and local changes to criminal, traffic, and municipal ordinance fines and fees policies. On the same page, the FFJC also provides two concise but thorough lists of policy recommendations for communities and for the justice system.
  • Professor Margo Schlanger at the University of Michigan Law School is tracking all COVID-19 class-action and group litigation (jails, prisons, immigration detention) cases at the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.
  • The Sentencing Project created a tool to track known cases of COVID-19 diagnoses in juvenile facilities among incarcerated youth and the facility staff across the county.
  • The Marshall Project is tracking articles from across the web on the risks of coronavirus across the U.S. justice system.
  • The Justice Collaborative COVID-19 Response and Resource page offers resource lists, fact sheets, example demand letters, and tracks active demand campaigns throughout the U.S.
  • The Urban Institute has a curated list of COVID-19 resources for leaders in international, federal, state, and local governments, as well as advocacy organizations.
  • This crowdsourced spreadsheet lists authorities (medical, legal, governmental) speaking out about the risks to incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic. This resource is being used by advocates who are writing petitions or pressuring decision-makers to take action.
  • Professor Aaron Littman at the UCLA School of Law has compiled a spreadsheet to help readers understand which local officials have the power to release people from jails. The information in the spreadsheet is state-specific.

Selected demand letters and policy recommendations from other groups:

These are examples of some of the most powerful demand letters and policy recommendations made by experts around the country about mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails.

  • Several organizations have recommended programs and policies to support people being released from prisons and jails during the pandemic:
    • A coalition of formerly incarcerated people and current volunteers and employees of the Indiana correctional system proposed a model emergency release plan that addresses housing, quarantine, and healthcare issues.
    • The Justice Collaborative Institute published a report in early May recommending ways to secure housing, medical care, smartphones, and other critical resources for returning citizens.
    • The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the National Sheriffs' Association created a checklist for correctional facilities to prepare people for release and reentry. The checklist addresses COVID-19 testing, legal discharge processes, basic needs, and medical and substance abuse treatment.
    • Amend at the University of California San Francisco released a short policy paper recommending ways to release people from prisons and "cohort" those still incarcerated to slow the spread of the virus.
  • Advocates in Cook County, Illinois, Los Angeles, and Detroit published demands for the release of people from local jails.
  • The NYC Board of Corrections (an independent oversight body) released a statement calling for the immediate release of people who are over 50 years old, have underlying health conditions, are detained for administrative reasons such as failure to appear, and people serving sentences of less than one year.
  • The Bail Project released 6 sensible demands for jails to protect the public by: 1) releasing people who are held because they cannot afford a cash bond, 2) utilizing "cite and release" for people charged with misdemeanors, 3) prioritizing release for people in vulnerable demographics, 4) reducing conditions and restrictions around release, 5) protecting meaningful access to counsel and pretrial support, and 6) providing appropriate care and hygiene to those who remain incarcerated.
  • Fair and Just Prosecution released a joint statement from numerous elected prosecutors recommending use of cite and release policies, releasing those people detained because they cannot afford bail, release vulnerable people, and eliminate medical copays.
  • Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice released a statement -- endorsed by current and former youth corrections administrators -- making recommendations for youth correctional facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Their recommendations include population reduction, elimination of fines and fees, and opportunities for detained youth to communicate with family.
  • On March 23, the CDC released guidelines for correctional and detention facilties to protect the health and safety of incarcerated people, staff, visitors, and the community at large.

Polling data:

Data for Progress conducted a survey of 2,509 likely voters and found that across political parties, support for criminal justice reform to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 was strong. Respondents supported the reduction of jail and prison populations, releasing people within 6 months of completing their sentences, releasing at-risk individuals, and reducing unnecessary jail admissions.

Tools for legal action and advocacy:

The Civil Rights Corps released a template for emergency motions for pretrial release that advocates can file in any criminal case.

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