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July 29, 2020

Council on Criminal Justice launches "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice"

Half-reverseThe Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) — which is a favorite new organization in part because they asked me to take a close look at the 1994 Crime Bill's sentencing provisions and because they recently produced a great report urging criminal justice reforms — announced via this press release yesterday that they are launching an important and impressive new commission.  Here are the details:

The Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) today launched a national commission to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system, develop strategies to limit outbreaks, and produce a priority agenda of systemic policy changes to better balance public health and public safety.

Led by former U.S. Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice will:

  • Evaluate the pandemic’s impact on the four major sectors of the justice system (law enforcement, courts, corrections, and community programs);
  • Identify the most effective ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and the impact of future pandemics on the proper functioning of the justice system, and on the people who work in and are served by it; and
  • Establish a priority agenda of policies and practices that should change, or remain changed, based on what the pandemic and response have revealed about the system’s fairness and effectiveness, particularly for communities of color.

Given the serious health and safety risks created by the novel coronavirus, the Commission intends to work quickly, producing multiple interim reports before issuing final recommendations by the end of 2020.  The Commission also welcomes and will seek input from a wide variety of outside experts and stakeholders.  To submit written testimony, please visit the Commission’s website here [and here].  Opportunities to give oral testimony will be provided at later date.

“Our response to the pandemic will shape society and the justice system for generations. It’s critical that we learn from this crisis and make the right choices as we move ahead,”said Commission Co-Chair Gonzales, who served as Attorney General under President George W. Bush. “I look forward to working with Gen. Lynch and my other Commission colleagues to develop solutions that can make a difference immediately and well into the future.”

“Our nation’s criminal justice system has not been exempt from the devastating impact of COVID-19, with longstanding issues and concerns rising to the fore,” said Commission Co-Chair Lynch, who served as Attorney General under President Barack Obama. “Now, more than ever, we need solutions anchored in facts, science, sound judgment, and trusted experience, and the widely respected members of this Commission are ideally qualified to produce them.”

The Commission’s 14 members represent a diverse range of perspectives and experience.  Commissioners include current and former justice system leaders, elected officials, advocates, a leading incarceration researcher, a directly impacted individual, and a top public health specialist....

At its opening meeting today, the Commission was presented with the first in a series of reports presenting new research on COVID-19 and criminal justice.  The study by Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez of the University of Missouri-St. Louis [available here], examined crime trends from 27 cities leading up to the pandemic and through June. It found that:

  • Property and drug crime rates fell significantly, coinciding with stay-at-home mandates and business closings.  Residential burglary dropped by 20% between February and June 2020. Larceny and drug offenses decreased by 17% and 57%, respectively, between March and June 2020.  These declines reflect quarantines (residential burglary), business closings (larceny), and reduced police and street activity (drug offenses).
  • One exception to the drop in property crime was commercial burglary, which spiked by 200% for a single week beginning in late May.  The spike is likely associated with the property damage and looting at the start of nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd.
  • Rates of violent crime showed little change early in the pandemic but began to increase significantly in late May.  Homicides (37%) and aggravated assaults (35%) rose significantly in late May and June.  The increases could be tied to diminished police legitimacy in the wake of protests after Floyd’s killing.
  • Robbery rose significantly — by 27% — between March and June 2020.
  • Domestic violence also rose, but the increase was not significantly greater than in previous years.  In addition, the finding was based on data from only 13 of the cities studied, and thus requires further examination.

“The impacts of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system require rapid but rigorous analysis by a set of seasoned leaders and community stakeholders who understand the significance of this moment for the future well-being of our nation,”said Commission Director Thomas Abt, a CCJ senior fellow who served as Deputy Director of Public Safety for New York State and as chief of staff to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.“It’s essential that we provide justice system leaders wrestling with COVID-19’s impacts with a roadmap based on evidence, data, and the wisdom of top experts. No organization is better positioned than CCJ to lead this vital effort.”

UPDATE: Paul Cassell has a new lengthy post here at The Volokh Conspiracy under the title "What Explains Why Homicides Are Increasing Significantly Across the Country Since Late May?".  This post takes a deep dive into this new CCJ report, and I recommend the post in full for its effort to fully understand and account for developing crime data.  Here is a paragraph from the latter part of the post:

Researchers should continue to investigate why homicides have been spiking in Chicago and other major cities across the country. If the answer is that de-policing is linked to rising gun violence (as some earlier studies would suggest), further limiting police efforts to aggressively deter gun crimes will tragically lead to more shootings and more homicides. And the victims of those crimes will likely come disproportionately from African-American communities—communities that, in some instances, may want more aggressive police efforts to combat gun crimes.

July 29, 2020 at 09:18 AM | Permalink


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