Criminal Justice Faculty Publications and Presentations

Jails in the Time of Coronavirus

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on how people conduct themselves in their daily lives all around the world. Jails are not exempt from the consequences of COVID-19. In fact, they are particularly affected, as they are contained environments where inmates and staff live and work in close proximity. In this paper, we examine steps taken by jails to mitigate COVID-19 via an examination of jail websites, government/health websites, and news articles. To examine differences across jails’ responses, we utilize ordinary least squares regression and find that many jails are implementing policies intended to prevent or reduce the presence of COVID-19 in their facilities, especially regarding isolation of symptomatic inmates and visiting. Yet, gaps remain, particularly with regard to quarantine for new intakes, reducing housing unit capacity, access to disinfectants and personal protective equipment for inmates, and testing of symptomatic inmates. There were also variations in how jails responded to COVID-19 by geographic location, with the West and Midwest indicating greater pandemic responses. Jail capacity was positively associated with a facility’s pandemic response, and there was also a relationship between indications that jails were following COVID-19 prevention/maintenance guidelines and their responses to the disease. Findings demonstrate wide variation in how jails are responding to the pandemic as well as factors that may contribute to jail administrators’ ability to effectively respond to the virus, such as resource constraints.


© 2020 Taylor & Francis

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