The Commission recommends that the following actions be carried out by leaders across all sectors of the criminal justice system.
Go beyond CDC guidance to stop exponential growth.
Given the speed and ease of transmission, the uncertainty of future projections concerning the spread of COVID-19, and the seriousness of the disease, go above and beyond normal measures in responding to the virus and improving readiness. The CDC produces and regularly updates several documents to guide officials in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in criminal justice facilities and populations. Follow such guidance, and ensure that policies meet – but, ideally, exceed - CDC guidelines. In addition, take measures to ensure full compliance with relevant public health guidelines.
Communicate transparently about COVID-19 response plans, policies, and data.
Clearly, quickly, and repeatedly communicate COVID-19 plans and policies to staff, justice-involved populations, and the public. Collect and report COVID-19 infection, morbidity, and mortality data for justice-involved populations and staff by race and ethnicity, including testing schedules and results, to produce a full picture of how the virus has impacted all groups in the justice system.
Adopt universal masking requirements for all staff and impacted populations when indoors and in close contact with others.
Such policies are warranted given the proven effectiveness of masking in limiting the transmission of COVID-19, the heightened risks associated with criminal justice institutions, and the critical need for such institutions to maintain ongoing operations. Customize such requirements and make exceptions where necessary, but aim for broad compliance. In addition, given their superior protection in relation to cloth masks, and the higher risks faced by staff and justice-involved populations, surgical masks are preferred.
Widely and frequently test staff and justice-involved populations for COVID-19 using the most reliable methods available.
Given the rapidly shifting science on various testing technologies, monitor developments in order to ensure access to the best testing mechanisms widely available. At this time, molecular testing remains the preferred method of testing people who have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. If inexpensive widespread rapid antigen testing becomes available, this form of testing could be used to frequently screen asymptomatic staff and incarcerated persons in an effort to detect and contain outbreaks as early as possible. Positive antigen tests should be confirmed by a molecular test. Jails and prisons, like other high-risk settings such as nursing homes, should be given priority access to such tests when they become available.
Limit contact, maximize distance, and reduce density.
Given the risks associated with contact with the criminal justice system during the pandemic, take measures to limit person-to-person contact, maximize distances between individuals, and reduce density wherever possible. Subject to public safety considerations, such measures may include limiting custodial arrests; reducing admissions to jails and prisons and increasing releases from such facilities; and moving indoor operations and activities outside, among others.
Allocate resources strategically.
When facing difficult budget decisions, prioritize targeted, strategic reductions over across-the-board cuts to avoid unintended consequences. For example, reducing workforces according to seniority could undermine prior reforms aimed at diversifying the workforce. Avoid past policies such as relying on excessive fines and forfeitures to increase revenue. Preserve funding for evidence-based programming with a high net return on investment and solutions that provide equitable access to justice in the pandemic.
Actively engage and consider impacted communities in all decision-making.
Provide regular opportunities for input from directly impacted groups and assess implemented measures to ensure equitable impacts.