When the coronavirus struck, the key focus of officials in New Jersey as elsewhere was to “flatten the curve” of infection. Prisoners’ advocates were worried about how this would be achieved in jails and prisons, fearful that COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, would spread rapidly behind the walls.
How states responded to the challenge of curbing the disease among the incarcerated is addressed in a report by the ACLU and Prison Policy Initiative. It describes an analysis of states’ actions based on several critera — including testing, availability of personal protective equipment, availability of data, and executive orders to release vulnerable prisoners — and how the states scored.
No success stories are recorded in this document. Instead, the best grade allotted was a “D-.” Nine states made that grade: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia. All the rest — 40 states, including New Jersey — were graded “F,” plus or minus, with New Jersey getting an “F+.” (Illinois was not given a grade because some of the relevant data is the subject of pending litigation.)
There is cold comfort in this report, whose authors concluded “…most states have taken very little action, and while some states did more, no state leaders should be content with the steps they’ve taken thus far.” They added, “The results are clear: despite all of the information, voices calling for action, and the obvious need, state responses ranged from disorganized or ineffective, at best, to callously nonexistent at worst. Even using data from criminal justice agencies — that is, even using states’ own versions of this story — it is clear that no state has done enough and that all states failed to implement a cohesive, system-wide response.”
Follow this link to read the report.