Melissa Respeto
Melissa RespetoStaff Editor

With governmental entities calling for the public to practice social distancing and self-isolation to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, one can only wonder how prisons, prison staff, and prisoners are carrying out such measures. With nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated in roughly 7,000 facilities around the United States, overpopulation in prisons and local jails should, now more than ever, be a concern with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  In addition to the prisoners, the staff in these facilities, including medical staff, are subject to increased exposure due to a lack of proper protection against the virus present in the prisons and jails.  Because of the state of our prison system and its overpopulation, social distancing is nearly impossible to accomplish.

Although the side effects of the COVID-19 virus are symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath, it seems that this virus has also brought to light the stark reality of how governmental institutions and systems would fare in a pandemic such as the one the United States, and other countries around the world, are currently experiencing.  The criminal justice system is one that has been adversely affected by the current state of the country amidst the coronavirus pandemic, however, this can very well be the beginning of a successful approach towards fixing the mass incarceration problem present in the United States.  As an unexpected result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our criminal justice system has had to consider different approaches to lower the population in our prisons and jails.  Some state governments have suggested early release for certain inmates that are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus or are nonviolent, while others have limited their arrests in order to lower the jail population.

Further, with Courts limiting their exposure by either closing their doors or hearing only mission-critical court matters such as first appearances and emergency hearings, the criminal justice systems day to day operation has become nearly inaccessible to those awaiting trial, in jail, or in prison.  Thus, although compromised for the sake of public health, limited access to the criminal justice system is having a direct bearing on many civil liberties and constitutional rights of defendants currently in custody.  Although the coronavirus is currently a serious issue in our country, it can potentially be a new beginning for our outdated criminal justice system, and serve as the wakeup needed to restructure and rethink the crimes considered to be punishable by more than a year in prison, thus, marking the first step towards lowering the overall incarceration rate in the United States.