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How the Criminal Justice System's COVID-19 Response has Provided Valuable Lessons for Broader Reform

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages

This report presents key lessons learned and recommendations of panel workshops of representatives of all criminal justice sectors, who discussed the challenges faced by the criminal justice system in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and how various sectors of the criminal justice system have adapted to those challenges, along with the implications of the COVD-19 adjustments for future criminal justice reform.


These workshop panels were sponsored by the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative, which is a joint effort managed by the RAND Corporation in partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum, RTI International, and the University of Denver on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The panels focused on law enforcement, the court system, institutional corrections, community corrections, victim service providers, and community organizations. This report on the panel discussions notes that it is difficult to separate how the criminal justice system adjusted its policies and practices due to pandemic conditions from the simultaneous political environment that called for police reform in the backlash from George Floyd’s death. Some of the responses to the pandemic, including significant decarceration, aligned with some of the demands made during the protests. There is an urgent need to assess what data should be collected as the pandemic continues, in order to assess what has been learned and how changes made in the context of the pandemic have performed. Some of the most important lessons from the pandemic come from how the system responded, including the choice to not arrest as many people as usual and not requiring some individuals to complete their original sentences or periods of detention for some crimes and violations. Effects of curtailed or suspended standard criminal justice policies and practices due to the pandemic must be analyzed to determine whether the changes forced by the pandemic may reduce criminal justice costs without compromising public safety.

Date Published: January 1, 2021