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Using Data and Science to Understand the Impact of COVID–19 on Corrections

NCJ Number
Corrections Today
Date Published
September 2021

Based on the proceedings of the NIJ-funded Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative series of workshops in which key stakeholders examined COVID-19’s impact on the criminal justice system, this article highlights findings from the workshops on institutional and community corrections, followed by a discussion of a recent report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on the pandemic’s impact on local jail populations.


In addition to identifying potential challenges in countering and responding to COVID-19 in institutional corrections, the workshop identified the various health and safety measures adopted by corrections agencies, including reducing their incarcerated populations and developing strategies for quarantine, such as physical distancing, wearing masks, and improving hygiene practices. Most incarcerated persons had to rely on technology to maintain contact with their families and legal counsel, and facilities denied entry to visitors and all but essential personnel. Workshop participants encourage corrections agencies to maintain reduced populations to the extent feasible; continue using virtual technologies for visitation, court hearings, and telehealth; allow certain corrections staff to telework; and include correctional facilities in local disaster planning. Workshop participants note that the crisis of COVID-19 has also provided opportunities to implement and sustain reforms that may prove to be cost-effective for corrections. Research and evaluation issues for future consideration are reported from the workshop. Another major section of this report addresses workshop discussions and comments on community corrections responses to COVID-19, promising practices that have emerged from virtual supervision models and telehealth, and research and evaluation issues raised. Workshop comments related to the impact of COVID-19 on local jail populations are also reported and discussed. This report notes that there is still much to learn from this corrections crisis, with related research and data being instrumental in corrections reforms.

Date Published: September 1, 2021