Researchers study jail populations during pandemic

Researchers looked at county jails across the country including 11 Indiana jails. They found Hoosier jail populations decreased by 21% from February 1 to April 14.

Posted: Sep 6, 2020 11:06 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - They may be out of sight but the pandemic continues to affect prisons and jails across the country. Analysts with the Center for Health and Justice Research at the IU Public Policy Institute sought to find out how jail populations have been impacted.

Researchers looked at county jails across the country including 11 Indiana jails. They found Hoosier jail populations decreased by 21% from February 1 to April 14.

One of the jails included in the study is the Clay county jail. According to researcher Kevin Martyn, that population dropped by a little more than 20%.

During that same period of time, Martyn says the Putnam county jail saw a nearly 40% jail population drop. This is compared to a 17% decrease nationwide.

There is a focus on jails and prisons because it is difficult to maintain physical distancing in these settings. To reduce jail populations, county sheriffs focused on releasing low-risk and non-violent offenders while also making fewer arrests for non-emergencies.

Martyn says, "This policy is really focused on prioritizing the lowest risk offenders, primarily non-violent, procedural violations and things like that, and at the same time people who are at the highest risk from COVID. So, this is a humanitarian effort in that sense."

A second phase of research is ongoing and includes new counties like Knox. Martyn says Knox county reduced its jail population by 18% from February to April and has since dropped it another 10%.

The next phase will also include interviews with sheriffs and jail staff about what's working and what's not should coronavirus continue to be an issue.

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