Prison Dilemmas

In an article in Washington Square News, “NYU Marron Institute Recommends Prisoners’ Early Release to Prevent COVID-19 Spread,” Director of Marron and Director of the Litmus Program, Angela Hawken, and Senior Research Scholar Jonathan Kulick discuss dangerous correctional-facility conditions as well as recommendations for early release and reentry. Kulick notes:

In most of the country, most of the jails and prisons are mostly full, some of them are over-full… most of the jails and prisons do not really have extra unused space,” he said. “So really the only way to reduce the population density [within prisons] and the frequency and intimacy of contact is by letting people go or by not taking people in, in the first place.

In an attempt to protect the health of correctional facility employees and prisoners, many states have made the decision to rapidly release prisoners. Litmus has experience in this area after having run pilot graduated-reintegration projects, which involved early release from prison.

Hawken comments on state-level efforts to reduce population density in response to COVID-19. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, for example, signed an executive order allowing the early release of 1,000 prisoners who were scheduled to be released in the upcoming months. Hawken notes that while releasing prisoners early is an important first step, it is not enough. She points out that these new releasees need to be equipped with adequate resources as they reenter society, to help them succeed in the community and reduce public concerns surrounding early release.

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