Coronavirus Threat: Parole and Probation Officials Offer Urgent Recommendations
More than 40 current and former probation and parole executives from across the country, as well as The National Association of Probation Executives, released a statement today providing guidance to limit the threat of coronavirus. The statement is the first attempt by corrections officials across jurisdictions to limit the impact of coronavirus on the U.S. through correctional population reduction measures.
The recommendations include:
• Immediately limit office visits for people on parole and probation.
• Suspend or severely limit technical violations for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
• Reduce intake onto probation and parole to only those who absolutely need to be under supervision.
• Reduce the terms of probation and parole to only as long as necessary to achieve the goals of supervision.
• Train staff to provide clear, accurate and understandable information to probation and parole clients.
The statement reads, in part:
In this time of national concern over the spread of COVID-19, the undersigned probation and parole executives and associations offer the following guidance and recommendations to (1) utilize social distancing to reduce the unnecessary and inadvertent spread of the coronavirus through community supervision, while (2) continuing to support persons under supervision and assure public safety.
People under correctional control are especially medically vulnerable. They disproportionately suffer from heart conditions, tuberculosis, HIV and diabetes, among other medical vulnerabilities. Further, outbreaks of contagious diseases in correctional facilities could lead to the infection of staff, incarcerated people and family members and could negatively impact staffing patterns, rendering such facilities more difficult to operate in a safe and healthy manner. Since approximately 11 million people churn through prisons and jails every year, if infectious diseases are spread inside correctional facilities, they have an elevated potential to affect community health. Finally, the millions of people visiting probation and parole offices are similarly medically vulnerable, putting our staff and one another at heightened risk of becoming infected.
With 4.5 million people on probation and parole nationally, there are more people under supervision than is necessary from a public safety standpoint. Too many people are placed under supervision who pose little public safety risk and are supervised for excessive supervision periods beyond what is indicated by best practices. This stretches probation and parole resources; hampers our ability to assist and supervise those most in need; and ultimately contributes to the revocation and incarceration of people for technical, non-criminal violations, like missing appointments and substance use.
To read the entire statement and view the signatories, click below:
Statement from community supervision executives on the importance of using best practices during the COVID-19 crisis
The statement was circulated by EXiT: Executives Transforming Probation and Parole, which seeks to “unite current and former community supervision executives to build a national movement to transform probation and parole to be smaller, less punitive, and more hopeful, equitable, and restorative.”
“Policymakers should immediately enact the common sense recommendations contained in this statement to help flatten the coronavirus curve,” says Vincent Schiraldi, former Commissioner of New York City Probation, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab and originator of the statement. “Here in New York State for example, we’re imprisoning nearly 8,000 people for non-criminal technical violations and another one out of eight people in our jails is being held on technical violations. Before that, they sit in waiting rooms with other medically vulnerable people waiting to see their parole officers under the threat of imprisonment. This is the exact opposite of social distancing and it unnecessarily threatens the health of people on parole, their families and communities, and parole and correctional staff. Governors across the country should immediately switch all parole and probation reporting to phone call or computerized reporting, discharge everyone from probation and parole who has been in compliance for the last six months, and stop churning people through their jails for non-criminal, technical violations.”
“These recommendations support the social distancing recommendations of public health officials,” says Dr. Tyler Winkelman, an internist at Hennepin County Jail and Co-director of the Health, Homelessness, and Criminal Justice Lab at Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute in Minneapolis who was consulted on the drafting of the statement. “Strict social distancing efforts that reduce person-to-person contact will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”
“Incarceration will push the coronavirus outbreak curve upwards, increasing the risk that our health system is overwhelmed,” says Dr. Homer Venters, former Chief Medical Officer of the New York City jail system who was also consulted on the drafting of the statement. “Efforts to reduce transmission and mortality of coronavirus should include efforts to reduce the number of people behind bars. As such, recommendations that would reduce incarceration for technical violations are particularly warranted in the current crisis. Without swift action, jails and prisons may become key drivers of preventable death from coronavirus.”
“We know that incarceration is inherently harmful to human health, even under normal circumstances,” says Seth J. Prins, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. “We also already rely on community corrections to manage the consequences of inadequate investments in housing, jobs, education, and public health, instead of funding the social infrastructures that enable people to live stable, secure, safe, and fulfilling lives. These recommendations are a great, common-sense first step in ensuring the health and well-being of individuals ensnared in the criminal legal system, while also taking steps to ensure that the criminal legal system does not exacerbate the current crisis.”
“Probation and parole leaders need to do all we can in this crisis to make sure we’re not inadvertently spreading the COVID-19 virus,” says Wendy Still, Chief Probation Officer of Alameda County, California and former Chief of San Francisco Adult Probation. “Limiting clients, staff and the public in our offices and detention facilities, reducing violations, and when appropriate, shortening probation terms both help with the pandemic and are in line with public safety and best practices.”
“As New York confronts the coronavirus crisis, the health and well-being of all of our citizens is paramount,” says Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “It is vital during this crisis, when we know social distancing saves lives, not to increase our jail and prison populations. As such, my Office supports policies during this crisis that will drastically reduce supervision caseloads and the issuance of technical violations. Even in the best of times, non-criminal, technical parole violations are major catalysts of unnecessary reincarceration statewide that disproportionately impact New Yorkers of color. Today’s difficult times emphasize New York’s urgent need for a forward-looking, evidence-based overhaul of our parole system. The Less is More Act, co-sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly Member Walter Mosley, would deliver this substantial overhaul, and I urge New York lawmakers to enact it now.”