Coronavirus Pandemic Makes the Case for Criminal Justice Reform

Source: The Intercept

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States is expediting criminal justice reforms that advocates have pushed for decades. At least nine prosecutors are now fast-tracking reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated people kept in conditions that can speed the rate of infection, and to stop new prosecutions of low level nonviolent offenses.

For reformers, scholars, and elected officials alike, swift changes from prosecutorial offices across the country raise the question: Why not earlier? And with those changes in place, can things go back to the way they were?

“There is a real question that needs to be asked after this crisis is over about sort of reimagining what our justice system looks like,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

“This is gonna be a really important moment for criminal justice reform where a lot of police, prosecutors, corrections agencies say, ‘Let’s not go back,’ — this is our hope, right? Let’s not go back to where we were,” Eisen said.

Close and often unhygienic quarters can compound the spread of a disease. That makes prisons potential hot spots for the spread of the new coronavirus — and increasing numbers of cases are being documented. The number of cases at Rikers Island in New York City, for example, ballooned from 29 on Sunday to at least 80 inmates and staff by Tuesday; one corrections officer died earlier this month. The first positive coronavirus tests in Philadelphia jails were reported Friday.

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