SJC Letter To The New York Times

April 17, 2020

To the Editor:

Re “Social Distancing Isn’t an Option, So Prisons Free Inmates to Try to Slow Infection” (news article, March 31):

As increasing numbers of Covid-19 diagnoses emerge in our jails, cities and counties need to take action immediately.

Delaying trials and keeping people who pose little risk to public safety locked up endangers the health of others in our justice system and the broader community. It also takes people away from their families during uncertain times. Those with mental health and substance use issues and low-income individuals who are being held in jail are especially vulnerable.

Cities and counties should look to those engaged in the Safety and Justice Challenge, a nationwide initiative to address the overuse of jails, as models for how alternatives to arrest and detention can be carried out swiftly and safely, in a public health crisis or not.

The impact of the coronavirus underscores something we already know: Cultural and structural change in our justice system is deeply needed. We must take what we learn from this crisis and carry it into our long-term solutions. In the meantime, if there was ever an opportunity to show more care and compassion in the justice system, this is it.

Laurie Garduque
The writer is director of criminal justice at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Read the letter published at the New York Times website here.