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February 14, 2022

Two former Attorneys General recap criminal justice challenges two years into the pandemic

Two notable former US Attorneys General, Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch, who are co-chairs of the CCJ National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. have this notable new Hill commentary under the headline "Omicron is creating new havoc in our criminal justice system."  The piece is worth a full read because it is not all doom and gloom, and here is how it starts:

Just over a year ago, a national commission we led put forth a sweeping set of solutions for a criminal justice system wracked by COVID-19.  Today, with the Omicron variant spreading nationwide, we believe those recommendations are more urgent than ever — and can help rebalance public health and safety to forge a better post-pandemic future.

In the months that have passed since the report from our National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, many justice system leaders have continued to make laudable progress in mitigating the pandemic’s effects, using technology, innovation and their own talents to adapt and adjust policies and practices for the better. 

The Biden administration’s decision to allow thousands of nonviolent offenders released from federal prisons because of the COVID threat to remain on home confinement is one recent and sensible example, especially because many of those affected were near the end of their sentences.

In another low-profile but high-impact development, leaders in the nation’s probation and parole agencies tell us that the pandemic switch to mostly remote supervision has improved the human connection between officers and the hundreds of thousands of people they oversee, who, by and large, have not absconded as some had feared.  In many states, this is a positive change that’s here to stay.

Yet major problems persist across the criminal justice system, and in some ways have intensified.  Omicron is causing renewed disruptions, with detainees at New York’s Rikers Island jail protesting what they call dangerous conditions, and California prisons reporting a “staggering rise” in infections among employees.  Systemwide, prison and jail populations that had been safely reduced to contain the virus are rebounding, posing renewed risks to incarcerated people and staff.

And in our courts, operations have been slowed by crushing case backlogs.  In Fulton County, Ga., home of Atlanta, the number of backlogged cases surpassed 11,000 — in a state with a backlog of 206,000 — including approximately 600 murder cases awaiting trial.  In Seattle, a judge estimated that even excluding nonviolent cases, it would take 13 years to clear the logjam.

These and other ongoing challenges are clear signals that we must do more to meet this moment — and ensure our post-pandemic system is better equipped to balance health, safety and justice for all.

February 14, 2022 at 12:07 PM | Permalink


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