Criminal Justice System Responses to COVID-19

4/21/2020

coronavirus

Coronavirus continues to be a top concern. Federal, state and local governments are making decisions that affect the operation of their criminal justice systems. Below is a list of resources that details action being taken by courts, law enforcement, state and local agencies and other civil and criminal justice stakeholders.

Courts

national center for state courts coronavirus graphic

Credit: National Center for State Courts

Courts at every level have postponed or canceled proceedings in response to the spread of coronavirus. The U.S. Supreme Court building is closed until further notice but will remain open for official business purposes, with case filing deadlines remaining in place. The justices also postponed March oral arguments but will continue to hold scheduled conferences and issue regularly scheduled orders with some justices participating via telephone.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is keeping track of how many state and local jurisdictions have taken action to restrict or cancel jury trials. The organization also has information on states that have started requiring tele-hearings or teleconferences in lieu of in-person appearances. NCSC also has 50 state information on restricted entrance to court buildings, and courts that have closed entirely.

In addition to tracking court actions, NCSC has resources to assist courts with pandemic response and operations plans.

See NCSC’s tableau chart for the most recent information on court actions.

Law Enforcement

The daily work of law enforcement officers and other first responders is affected by the spread of the coronavirus. Many departments have expanded citation in lieu of arrest policies or limited arrests within already established statutory limits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new guidance for law enforcement personnel here. Additional information from professional law enforcement associations is available below.

Law enforcement officers can also be involved in quarantine procedures. More information on those laws can be found on NCSL’s webpage here.

Correctional Facilities and Supervision

Correctional facilities have been identified as being high risk for the spread of COVID-19. The federal Bureau of Prisons, state corrections departments and local jail administrators have all taken steps to prevent or limit the spread of the disease. In addition to reducing arrests, authorities have also implemented some of the following strategies:

  • Reducing jail admissions.
  • Releasing people from jails and prisons when possible.
  • Reducing unnecessary contact, visits and technical violations for people on probation and parole.
  • Eliminating medical copays for correctional medical visits and testing.
  • Reducing or suspending prison visitation.
  • Reducing or eliminating the costs of phone calls and video communications.

Many of these strategies are implemented on a state agency or local jurisdictional level and within statutory framework already created by state legislatures. For example, NCSL’s webpage on medical and geriatric parole details laws that provide correctional facilities the authority to release certain inmates prior to the expiration of their term. The nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative has created a webpage with links that have more details about the actions of state and local criminal justice stakeholders related to the strategies above.

Juvenile Justice

Similar to the challenges at adult correctional sites, the spread of COVID-19 is a concern in juvenile detention facilities, where social distancing can be nearly impossible and medical services are scarce. To address these risks, states have started to take action. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 24 directing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation secretary to temporarily halt the intake and/or transfer of inmates and youth into the state’s four youth correctional facilities for 30 days. 

State juvenile justice agencies around the country are also reviewing intake processes and issuing official statements on their efforts to reduce harmful effects from COVID-19. For example, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice  has modified screening protocols for vendors and youth taken into custody. Additionally, jurisdictions from Alaska to Virginia are suspending visitation from family members. 


*Links on this page are provided for informational purposes only. Some resources provide specific recommendations or offer opinions. NCSL does not endorse the recommendations or opinions contained in these informational links.*

Resources from other professional associations:

Federal resources:

Additional Resources