Our jails and prisons are dangerously overcrowded and underfunded, so the pathways to release won’t be simple. But there are some immediate steps that can and should be taken to protect our incarcerated and national populations.
First, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement need to use their existing discretion to immediately stop sending low-level offenders to jail.
One in 4 prisoners are incarcerated for violating probation and parole requirements like failing a drug test or missing an appointment with their probation officer. While many of these practices represent a vast overreach under the best of circumstances, right now they make an already dangerous public health situation much worse.
Second, judges could work with departments of correction to release people whose health may already be compromised, which at least one county jail in Ohio is looking into. Los Angeles County has significantly reduced arrests and dropped its inmate population, while placing about 35 inmates in either isolation are quarantine.