UCLA Law Builds Databases on Prisons and COVID-19

March 24, 2020
Prisoner behind bars

UCLA School of Law has created expansive databases that keep track of developments related to COVID-19 in prisons and jails nationwide. Launched amid the mounting coronavirus crisis — including reports of infections in high-risk places where large numbers of people are packed into tight quarters — the resources address two key areas.

  • COVID-19 Correctional Policies & Responses” allows prisoners’ advocates, journalists and others in the public to access or contribute data on how the pandemic is impacting incarcerated people, correctional officers and other personnel.
  • Statutory Release Powers” comprises a state-by-state survey of all sources of legal authority that allow officials including sheriffs, judges and governors to release people from custody in response to the pandemic.

“It is hard to overstate the scale of the danger COVID-19 poses to people being held in prisons and jails,” says UCLA Law Professor Sharon Dolovich, faculty director of the law school’s Prison Law and Policy Program. “Virtually every carceral institution in the country is overcrowded, and you can’t practice social distancing in overcrowded facilities. The aging of the prisoner population means that many people inside are in high-risk groups. And in many places, people don’t even have access to the soap and warm water they need to wash their hands. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.”

Dolovich and student Keegan Hawkins ’21 developed the vast, open-source “Policies & Responses” spreadsheet as a central repository for information as it emerges. In addition to maintaining running totals of the numbers of reported cases of the novel coronavirus in particular prisons and jails, the document tracks jurisdiction-specific policies on reducing prisoner concentrations, sanitation and visitation, and it tallies local, state and national efforts to aid people who are affected by COVID-19 in prisons or jails.

Aaron Littman, a Binder Clinical Teaching Fellow at UCLA Law, created the survey of legal authorities on releasing people from custody.

“Policy responses to alleviate the risks are being developed on the fly, and advocates need to see what is going on in real time,” Dolovich says. “By maintaining these resources, we seek to support the people working to protect prisoners’ rights and keep them safe, while correctional authorities combat the spread of COVID-19.”

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