COVID-19 and the criminal system

The spread of COVID-19 is a public health emergency that is especially urgent for the 2.3 million human beings caged in U.S. jails and prisons. These institutions are already dangerous and unhealthy places, even outside of a global pandemic, with overcrowding, deplorable conditions, and inadequate healthcare access making them a hotbed for infectious diseases. Based on everything we know, these conditions will cause COVID-19 to continue spreading like wildfire—and the consequences will be devastating.nnAt this crisis point, decarcerating jails and prisons is a legal, moral, and humanitarian imperative. We recommend that all government officials immediately take the actions that are outlined in the documents below. Please note: these documents include real-time examples of actions taken across the country, but these examples are far shy of the dramatic, carceral action needed now. We are ready to support officials at all levels to protect people in the criminal system during this crisis. If you need additional assistance, please contact our policy counsel Thea Sebastian (

Policy Documents