Jails and prisons are often overcrowded, and their residents are disproportionately likely to have chronic health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to viral infections. So as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, we’ve been asked: Is social distancing (as recommended by the CDC and other public health agencies) even possible behind bars? Can incarcerated people maintain 6 feet from each other, and from correctional officers and other staff?

The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other nation in the world, so it is urgent that policymakers take the public health case for criminal justice reform seriously and make necessary changes to protect people in prisons, in jails, on probation, and on parole.

As advocates urge prisons and jails to slow the spread of COVID-19 by releasing as many incarcerated people as possible, it’s more important than ever to understand how many people are locked up across the country, where, and why.

For immediate release — Last Friday (March 20, 2020), Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law ensuring that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn.

With jails considering major policy changes as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing a troubling question from allies with a little less experience on criminal justice issues: Given that jails provide valuable social services, wouldn’t it be bad to release people who need services? Aren’t the homeless, the mentally ill, or people with substance use disorders better off in jail?

By now, most people paying attention to the U.S. criminal justice system have heard about problems with the overuse and misuse of local jails. Chief among these problems are the serious, even deadly, harms caused by even brief periods of jail detention.

As jails and prisons across the country suspend in-person visits to slow the spread of COVID-19, families are being rapidly cut off from their incarcerated loved ones.

The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other nation in the world, so it is urgent that policymakers think about how a viral pandemic would impact people in prisons, in jails, on probation, and on parole, and to take seriously the public health case for criminal justice reform.

SiX and the Prison Policy Initiative have released a guide to ending prison gerrymandering for state legislators. Whether you’re new to prison gerrymandering, working on a bill already filed this session, or somewhere in between, there’s something for everyone in this guide — it includes lessons from our previous advocacy, detailed policy recommendations, talking points, and much more.

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