Counties operate 91 percent of the nation’s jails, where 10.6 million individuals cycle in and out of more than 3,000 local jails each year. Safety for justice-involved individuals, particularly in densely populated facilities such as jails, poses a significant challenge for counties during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many county jails have suspended in-person visitation and have started using phone and video conferencing to conduct necessary visits. Sheriffs and jail administrators have started to enact measures to implement social distancing in correctional facilities such as suspending programming and gatherings for individuals in custody and restricting movement between cell blocks.
Sheriff’s offices are also providing personal protective equipment for staff and vendors interacting with individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms and cleaning supplies to sanitize commonly used areas. Some counties have also started to depopulate their jails by working with the courts to release individuals close to their release date or who do not pose a threat to public safety.
Addressing the health and safety of justice-involved individuals in custody and county staff in correctional facilities will remain a critical component to mitigating the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of crisis, counties remain at the forefront of addressing pivotal challenges that affect justice and public safety in communities across the country. As the outbreak unfolds, it is important that counties continue to serve as resources for one another.