A new study found that jail population across the U.S. dropped by nearly a quarter at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, mainly due to fewer people being booked, according to a study by the nonprofit MacArthur Foundation and City University of New York.
Bookings dropped 56 percent at all 26 sites in the study between February and April 2020, then rose again during the warm-weather months, but then again dropped by 28 percent in October compared to February 2020, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
St. Louis County, one of the 26 sites in the study, had an 18 percent decrease in bookings and this coincided with the implementation of coronavirus emergency measures nationwide. Under the measures, some nonviolent inmates were released, causing the inmate population to decrease.
To avoid overcrowding during the pandemic, some jails cut their populations. In California, for example, a Superior Court judge in December 2020 ordered Orange County jail populations to be cut in half, according to Prison Policy. California’s statewide emergency bail schedule reduced bail to $0 in April 2020, resulting in fewer people awaiting sentencing. Jails often hold people who can not make bail.
Jails are intended to hold people awaiting trial who are considered a flight risk or a safety threat to the public. However, about three-quarters of detainees in the country’s 3,100 jails are booked for alleged nonviolent crimes, often because they can’t afford bail, according to the report.
Unlike prisons, jails are intended for short sentences and temporary confinement while prisons are used for felony sentences longer than a year, according to Doran Justice Law Firm.
Approximately one-third decreases in jail populations were reported in Charleston, South Carolina; San Francisco and Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland; St. Louis County and Palm Beach, Florida, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“We’ve seen no change in public safety outcomes,” said Reagan Daly of CUNY, one of the authors of the study. “There’s been no increase in crime. There’s been no increase in violent crime.”
Another study, however, found that there has been an increase in violent crime during the pandemic. A report by the National Commission on covid-19 and Criminal Justice found a spike in violent crime in the country’s largest cities during the pandemic.
Homicides in 34 cities studied, including Dallas, had a cumulative 30 percent rise, according to the report.
“The major finding was a really striking increase in homicide,” Richard Rosenfeld, the report’s lead author, told NBC Dallas Fort Worth reported.
Rosenfeld added, “We saw a 30 percent rise in homicide rates in the 34 cities for which we could get data. Dallas homicide rates rose, but Dallas is not alone, this was a nationwide phenomenon.”
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Rosenfeld and the report’s other authors say there are a combination of factors to account for the increase in crime, including the economic stress of the pandemic, police departments negatively impacted by covid-19, and growing distrust of law enforcement.
“When you add poverty, unemployment and the stressors related to covid, and on top of that, people that are living with one another in close proximity without going to work – it is in fact a perfect storm,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, Associate Dean at Tarleton State University’s school of criminology.