Local Officials Should Quickly Reduce Jail Populations to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus

John Pfaff

Executive Summary

As the number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States continues to sharply increase, and as city, state, and federal officials take increasingly aggressive moves to contain the virus’s spread, it is critical to understand the significant role our nation’s more than 2,800 county jails may play in spreading the disease, not just within the facilities, but to vulnerable communities more broadly.

  • Nationally, over 50% of the public, including nearly 50% of Republicans, favors releasing anyone in jail whose offense is not one that threatens public safety.
  • A significant majority of voters—57% of voters in New York and 56% of voters nationally—favor releasing people who have less than six months left on their sentences. That includes a majority of Republican voters nationally and 50% of Republican voters in New York.
  • Significant majorities also support releasing elderly populations, including 58% of voters nationally and 56% of voters in New York. Fifty-three percent of Republicans nationwide support releasing elderly populations.
  • There is broad bipartisan support nationally—63% of all voters and 60% of Republicans—for a policy to reduce unnecessary jail admissions by encouraging law enforcement to use alternatives to arrest such as a summons or ticket. Fifty-nine percent of New York voters also support such a policy.
  • Nationally, 66% of voters—including 58% of Republicans—believe that officials should be considering ways to reduce jail and prison populations as a response to the coronavirus.
Local Officials Should Quickly Reduce Jail Populations to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus
Local Officials Should Quickly Reduce Jail Populations to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus