There must be mass releases from NYC jails immediately - it's the only way to protect public health

In partnership with New York County Defender Services, we analyzed new data obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request concerning COVID-19 testing in NYC jails. This analysis demonstrates the inadequacy of the city government's response to the outbreak in jails and shows that the testing data contradict public statements that jail officials have made. We found no evidence that testing had expanded since late March, despite officials touting an "aggressive testing strategy." And, only about one-third of new admissions had been tested, despite claims of universal testing of all new admissions. In this commentary, we present this analysis and raise specific demands concerning releasing more people from jails and keeping them out for the sake of public health. Click to read the commentary.

Why coronavirus in jails should concern all of us

In this commentary published in the Appeal, we present new research findings, which show that jails contribute to infectious disease deaths in the greater community. Specifically, using data on 1,670 counties, we found that within-country increases in jail incarceration rates were associated with increases in infectious disease mortality rates. This finding remained after excluding deaths due to HIV. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inherent injustices of the criminal legal system, including the unconscionable number of peope held in jails and prisons in inhumane conditions. These findings evidence the threat that jails pose to public health during the pandemic and under normal circumstances. Click to read the commentary.

County jail incarceration rates and county mortality rates in the United States, 1987-2016

In this study published in the American Journal of Public Health, we evaluated the relationship between changes in county jail incarceration rates and subsequent county mortality rates for 1,884 counties across the United States. We fit 1-year-lagged quasi-Poisson fixed effects models, controlling for unmeasured stable county characteristics, and measured time-varying confounders. We found that within-county increases in jail incarceration rates were associated with increases in subsequent mortality rates after confounder adjustment. Our findings add to the growing body of empirical evidence of the harms of mass incarceration. The criminal justice reform and decarceration movements can use these findings as they develop strategies to end mass incarceration. Click to read the full paper.

Adolescent substance use as determinant and consequence of the school-to-prison pipeline: Disentangling individual risk, social determinants, and group disparities.

A widely described but understudied auxiliary of mass incarceration is the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a set of policies and practices that make it more likely for some adolescents to become entrenched in the criminal justice system than to receive a quality education. School-based arrests have skyrocketed 300-500% since the 1990s. Out-of-school suspensions have more than doubled over the past 40 years, and have been borne disproportionately by adolescents of color and LGBTQ adolescents. Yet, the impact of substance use as a determinant and consequence of the school-to-prison pipeline remains largely unexplored. This represents a substantial gap in knowledge because:

  1. Adolescents with substance use problems are at increased risk of contact with the justice system, and exposure to the justice system increases subsequent risk of substance use problems
  2. Substance use is a prototypical “zero tolerance” infraction implicated in school discipline/arrest
  3. There are known racial and sexual orientation-based disparities in school discipline and substance use

Most research on the determinants of the school-to-prison pipeline has focused on the role of economic disadvantage, racial composition of schools/communities, biased and discriminatory application of school disciplinary policies, and teacher training. Consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline include poor academic achievement and increased criminal justice contact, but no epidemiologic research has examined its public health ramifications. Dr. Prins and collaborators, with the support of NIDA Mentored Research Scientist Development Award K01DA045955-01, will:

  1. Investigate prospective associations among substance use, teacher/school factors, school discipline, community factors, and school-based arrests
  2. Determine whether modifiable individual, teacher, school, and community factors identified in Aim 1 explain racial and LGBTQ disparities in substance-use-related school discipline/arrests
  3. Test whether there is a reciprocal relationship between substance use, school discipline, and school-based arrests

Learn About County Jail Incarceration and County Mortality

What does risk assessment actually assess

Risk factors for staying trapped in the criminal justice system are not identical to risk factors for initial exposure to the system.

Can we avoid reductionism in risk reduction?

Risk assessment and risk reduction have become increasingly central to criminal justice policy and practice in the last 25 years. Yet there remains a lack of consensus both on the theoretical and methodological foundations of risk and on its social and practical implications. Some proponents see risk assessment and reduction as solutions to the inefficiencies and injustices of contemporary mass incarceration. Some critics see actuarial risk as being partially responsible for mass incarceration, and warn that recent iterations will only reinscribe existing inequalities under a new guise of objectivity. Both perspectives contain elements of truth, but each falls short because neither adequately specifies the different dimensions of risk that condition its effects. Using two prominent frameworks as foils, this article excavates the contested terrain of risk assessment and exposes a set of distinctions that can inform the use—and prevent the abuse—of risk knowledge in criminal justice policy.