March 20, 2020

(Ed Note: In a recently published work, Zach Norris (We keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just and Inclusive Communities: Beacon Press, Boston, Mass, 2020) offers two appropriate thoughts as a perspective of community safety.  One, let’s start calling the criminal justice system the criminal legal system to designate the limits of the system and its failures.  Two, let’s re-define community harm and safety to include factors such as precarious employment, unemployment, loss of income, health care, housing and crippling debt.  To recognize the crisis lack of adequate income in a pandemic is also to acknowledge that we have been living with this powder keg that promotes the spread of the epidemic.  Why would we want this powder keg in times of epidemics or otherwise?)

Penal Reform International (Netherlands)
Coronavirus: Health care and human rights of people in prison – Do no harm, equality, transparency, humanity: values should guide the criminal justice sector’s response to coronavirus

Penal Reform is a highly respected international agency based in the Netherlands and offers this 13 page briefing on how prison system internationally are coping with the threat of coronavirus getting in a prison setting.  It addresses issue such as contact with the public and prison staff, quarantine, or restricted internal movement as well as the frequent transfers of prisoners for trials as well as availability of inmates to defence lawyers and prison monitors.  https://cdn.penalreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FINAL-Briefing-Coronavirus.pdf   Related article: Brennan Centre for Justice – Lauren-Brooke Eisen   How Coronavirus Could Affect U.S. Jails and Prisons –  People who come into jails and prisons are a very high-risk population for the virus, according to the former chief medical officer of the NYC Correctional Health Services.    https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/how-coronavirus-could-affect-us-jails-and-prisons   Related article: Washington Post – Editorial (March 17, 2020)   Officials must work quickly to help prevent the coronavirus in prisons  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/officials-must-work-quickly-to-help-prevent-the-coronavirus-in-prisons/2020/03/16/054babf6-67b9-11ea-8012-fdc44a41cb4f_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_opinions_pm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_popns  Related article: Washington Post – Katrina vanden Heuvel  The coronavirus makes a powerful case for boosting our social safety net      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/17/coronavirus-needs-more-than-an-emergency-response/?utm_campaign=wp_opinions_pm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_popns   Related article: CBC News – Julie Ireton   Isolation an unsafe option for women facing domestic abuse   https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/50-million-dollars-for-sex-assault-centres-women-s-shelters-help-covid-19-1.5503288

  Criminological Highlights – Professors Anthony Doob and Rosemary Gartner, U of T

Just when you were despairing of something worthwhile to read while you may be at home, here’s a prize offering in the latest of the University of Toronto’s Criminology Department.  The newsletter tackles eight questions and offers the latest in opinion and research.  The topics this time are:  1) Does being detained prior to trial affect the likelihood of conviction?    2) How do US colleges respond to applicants with criminal records?  3) What’s wrong with predictive models of sentencing?  4) Are objective-looking tools for predicting repeat domestic violence useful? 5) How can the use of risk assessment tools increase a youth’s risk of re-offending?  6) How does the strength of the evidence used to convict people affect the sentence that they get? 7) Do judges and lawyers understand the reliability and validity of psychological evidence?  8) Are sex offender registration and notification laws useful?  http://criminology.utoronto.ca/criminological-highlights/   (You are invited to enroll for your own electronic subscription to this excellent resource at the link https://criminology.utoronto.ca/  )


ANNUAL REPORT 2019 – The Sentencing Project (US)

This a worthwhile review of the progress made in the face of mass incarceration and the estimated 70 years to reduce the present circumstance at the present success ratio to 50% reduction of inmates.  The project looks at the use of life and virtual life sentences and calls for less excessive sentences for violent crime as well.  The report also includes juvenile justice practices and an assessment of the First Steps Act in the prison reform movement. https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Annual-Report-2019.pdf?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=138fe544-4807-40a8-aae5-b55993795276  (A 20 page downloadable pdf.)

PASAN (Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, Canada)

The link offers a letter of concern to Ontario Minister for Correctional Services Sylvia Jones from a group trying to both support AIDS inmates in Ontario jails and to alert the Ministry to the additional danger faced by AIDS patients in the face of the Coronavirus.  Numerous critics have pointed to the ‘cruise ship’ like nature of a jail and the inevitable consequences for contagion once a case enters the confined spaces.  “We are particularly concerned about the many prisoners who live with underlying health conditions that compromise their immunity and increase their risk of contracting COVID19. As you are no doubt aware, both HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) are far more prevalent among prisoners than among the population as a whole. Prisoners are thus disproportionately vulnerable to infection – and at the same time, unable to take the same precautions that other Ontarians are encouraged to adopt to protect themselves and reduce the rate and speed of transmission.”  https://www.facebook.com/prisonharmreduction/posts/2722786297950873  Related article: CBC News – Some prisoners could be released due to COVID-19 concerns in N.L. jails  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/bob-buckingham-covid-19-hmp-1.5501247?fbclid=IwAR14w6AX2S7WwTUIYY1s53qhsw-e0kjJiOxWM0Sw8Ui_tE8UJb4fXJESU8Q  Related article: The Guardian (PEI) – Margaret Paynter   Why some Canadian prisoners should be released during the coronavirus pandemic    https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/opinion/national-perspectives/martha-paynter-why-some-canadian-prisoners-should-be-released-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-426139/?fbclid=IwAR0gX-IhpSXu0zDeNhRSoDG4p55dNIvZm-8Io3t_ujAHv6MVXDR9ATqoi0U#.XnNnAcc4rvM.twitter

Globe and Mail – Ken Boessenkool
In normal times, universal basic income is a bad idea. But it’s the wisest solution for COVID-19 economic strain

There is a Coronavirus perspective on the notion of guaranteed annual income that should lead us to recognizing the role poverty and precarious employment play in the spread of pandemics.  “The government of Canada has responded to the economic crisis facing Canadian families by proposing to spend $27-billion dollars, by making existing programs easier to access (employment insurance); designing a new program (a new Emergency Care Benefit); expanding existing programs for students, seniors and Indigenous peoples among others; and allowing Canadians to defer filing and paying taxes.”  Boessemkool also identifies some dangers in the rifle approach embraced by the federal government:  time to design and hang-ups due to social distancing.  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-normal-times-universal-basic-income-is-a-bad-idea-but-its-the/

KXLY (Spokane, Wash) – Taylor Graham
‘It’s a perfect incubator for COVID-19’: Activists want some inmates released from Spokane Co. Jail

Angel Tomeo Sam and Sabrina Ryan Helton know what they are talking about.  Both ladies have been in the jails they claim are the perfect breeding grounds for the Coronavirus pandemic.  They want to bring attention to the local lock-ups where the average stay (16 days) is just long enough for incubation and where “People who have this can be contagious without showing symptoms and even if they are showing symptoms, if they’re at their release date, they’re going to be released. So, they’ll be coming back into the community coming from a place with no medical care, probably no testing.”  https://www.kxly.com/its-a-perfect-incubator-for-covid-19-activists-want-some-inmates-released-from-spokane-co-jail/

OPCAT Project
COVID-19: Deprivation of Liberty Information Corner

The link is to a site for the Optional Protocol for the Convention against Torture which has developed a helpful list of national and international groups with information on COFID-19 and the prisons.  https://canadaopcatproject.ca/covid-19-info-corner/?fbclid=IwAR274tFkheSDrcmyjFn8Xt1IouvWy6s2c9-WpwS7Fibwf9IBjTtpK2_rRL4