COVID-19 Jail Releases Did Not Increase US Crime Rate, Report Finds

Many large U.S. cities that kept people out of jail at the apex of the COVID-19 outbreak did so without seeing a spike in crime, according to a new study that looks at the relationship between crime and efforts to reduce jail populations during the pandemic.The report, released Monday by the The front entrance of Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas, May 16, 2020. Hundreds of inmates inside the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and several inmates have died with numbers expected to rise.Concern that the releases posed a public safety risk appear to have been overblown. ACLU researchers found that cities that reduced arrests and jail numbers did not see an uptick in crime. Twenty-four out of the 29 county jails it studied reduced their populations from 5% to 40% in March and April. All saw decreases in crime. The data was compiled by the Vera Institute of Justice.“When analyzing decarceration rates and crime trends together, the analytics team found no correlation,” the report says. “More decarceration was not associated with more crime.”That crime rates fell even as prisoners were let loose does not mean some did not re-offend, a phenomenon known as recidivism. Roseberry said that while it was “certainly possible” that some of the released inmates may have re-offended, it was not something the ACLU team examined.”More importantly, any risks of re-offending need to be weighed against the risk of an individual dying of COVID-19 in jail or prison,” Roseberry said. “It is also plausible that many did not re-offend, especially as we didn’t detect any abnormal spikes in crime.”Studies have shown that the odds of re-offending decline with age. Levin noted that states such as Oklahoma and Iowa conduct individualized assessments to determine an inmate’s release eligibility and reduce recidivism. Michigan more than halved its jail population this spring without seeing a marked increase in crime.“For the most part, what we’ve seen is pretty encouraging,” Levin said.As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States, authorities should continue their decarceration policies, the ACLU said.“We should continue to reduce incarceration as this COVID-19 crisis continues, and cases rise and fall,” the report says. “And we should never go back to the old normal, even after COVID-19 passes.” 

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