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Articles by Sharon Dolovich

New Study Documents Startling Spread of COVID-19 in American Prisons and Jails

In the United States, the incarcerated typically live in overcrowded facilities, with poor ventilation and insufficient access to masks and soap. They are disproportionately likely to have medical conditions that put them at high risk if they get the virus. And every day, staff and trustees move through the prison, spreading the risk of infection to every housing unit. 

Since the start of the pandemic, prisoners’ advocates, along with incarcerated people and their families and communities, have been warning that, once COVID-19 gets into a prison, it is likely to spread quickly. 

Now we have the data that proves them right. In a study published on July 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, our research team analyzed data collected by the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project from every state’s Department of Corrections and the federal Bureau of Prisons. We found that between March 31 and June 6, coronavirus case rates grew by ...

Mass Incarceration, Meet COVID-19 Opportunity to release prisoners with little public safety risk is clear

Most of America’s 2.3 million prisoners cannot practice social distancing. They are packed into overcrowded facilities, living, sleeping and bathing within feet—sometimes inches—of each other. What’s more, they often lack sufficient basics, including soap, warm water and clean towels, let alone hand sanitizer. Unless radical action is taken, many thousands of people inside—staff and prisoners alike—will needlessly die.

The radical action required—the only one that can prevent massive unnecessary loss of life—is reducing the population of jails and prisons. Efforts in this direction have begun in many jurisdictions. But the steps taken so far are not nearly enough, not by a long shot. All public officials with release authority— including sheriffs, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, parole boards, and governors— need to step up and immediately find ways to release as many people as they can before the virus strikes. In doing so, they have the opportunity to save thousands of lives and to begin the long overdue process of ending the costly, inhumane and counterproductive project of mass incarceration.

In the 1970s, the size of the American prisoner population was roughly on par with other Western democracies. Yet starting in the 1980s, the U.S. became the world’s ...

Forms of Judicial Deference in Prison Law

by Sharon Dolovich1

Anyone familiar with the constitutional law of prisoners’ rights knows how ready courts are to find against prisoners in the name of “judicial deference.” It is not unreasonable for courts to grant a measure of deference to state actors tasked with a job as complex, challenging and ...