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Sometimes It Takes a Pandemic

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 1, 2020 03:13

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There are silver linings around every dark cloud. Pollution levels have dropped. The water in lakes and streams is running clearer. Wildlife is moving into wilderness areas that they had been chased out of. People all over the world are taking note of what life in prison is really like.

The justice systems worldwide have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some better than others, but all fall short of what SHOULD have been a proper response. Among other things, the pandemic has uncovered is the fact that justice systems everywhere seem to be patterned on the same model … the American model. This makes sense since prison and criminal justice, as it exists today, was "invented" in the United States over 200 years ago.

Among the good things the pandemic has done is that it has forced many nations to take a closer look at their systems and admit that they are no more than warehouses with the products being stored are human beings. They are also facing the fact that those warehouses are public health disasters and that, because of the circumstances of their imprisonment, the people inside them are extremely vulnerable to disease.

Worldwide, it is estimated that about 300,000 inmates have been released early. At the top of the list is Portugal, which has released 17% of its prison population, with Cyprus following close behind at 15%. Iran and Turkey, concentrating on those with the least chances of recidivism (minimum security, over 65, and mothers with young children), have combined to release 100,000 people early.

Sadly, the United States falls toward the bottom of the list, with some states having released nobody at all. The US has company at the bottom, though. As of late April, the United Kingdom had released a total of 33 people and El Salvador has released nobody.

Other changes that reform advocates have been fighting to achieve for years are also happening. Throughout Africa, petty offenses that should have seen the dust bin of history long ago, such as foul language and loitering, are no longer being prosecuted. Offenses that merit no more than a short stay in prison are being suspended altogether in many places, such as France and Finland. There are also movements gaining momentum from New York’s Brooklyn to Malawi to end prosecution for short term penalty offenses like misdemeanors and fine defaults.

However, the other end of the spectrum has also raised its ugly head, with countries such as Kenya and El Salvador using quarantine violations to increase detentions and punishments. In both countries, those violating stay-at-home orders or breaking quarantine are subject to fines, arrests, and forced stays in "quarantine camps."

The pandemic has also forced many prison systems into the 21st century almost overnight. With visits worldwide being suspended, visits, educational classes, court hearings, and other programs are being conducted over the internet or through closed-circuit television. Yes, those do have their own issues, but even mere baby steps forward are still moving forward.

Being cut off from contact with the outside world so suddenly also has its problems. Combined with pandemic-induced panic, isolation has caused riots in Italy, Columbia, Peru and Sierra Leone.

The pandemic has changed some nations' methods of incarceration, mainly for the better.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 1, 2020 03:13

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Source: HuffPost

Criminal justice reform advocates have increasingly called for some non-violent inmates to be released amid the ongoing pandemic.

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