Disentangling Mental Health and Criminal Justice During COVID-19

Your inbox and media feeds are bombarded like never before, leaving you unsure what is the bigger threat to your health: the pandemic coronavirus or the endless flood of email newsletters.

All kidding aside, these are challenging times for all of us but we hope that you, our partners, are settling in and starting to feel more accustomed to this “new normal.”

We believe that when the tide of this coronavirus pandemic ebbs into obscurity, we will have many lessons to take away from this experience:

First, and importantly, we are more capable that we think to make important changes. The United States is a stable democracy in large part because making sweeping changes is relatively difficult. Yet, in times of crisis, we move with uncharacteristic haste (though maybe still too slowly) to deal with emergent crises. In this process, our nation’s jails and law enforcement offices are quickly acting to reduce the spread of the virus:

    • Ohio has released 300 non-violent jail inmates
    • Los Angeles has taken swift action to release inmates and reduce transfers between facilities
    • Colorado counties also working quickly to release jail inmates
    • Houston Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has urged release of non-violent and low-risk offenders
    • According to our investigations, jail intake health screenings are being updated and are in wide use

These moves will serve as a testing ground for compassionately releasing aging prisoners, reducing police pickups, shortening jail sentences, prioritizing only those who pose true public safety threats for incarceration, making communications means free for inmates in prison, and ensuring that people with underlying health conditions are identified early.

We hope these changes will prevent the spread of COVID-19 to America’s incarcerated populations, and they may even prove monumental in helping us rethink the current state of criminal justice. Yet one area where we have not made much progress as a country is in how we treat those with mental illnesses in our communities. It is imperative that the measures we are taking to provide mental health care to those suffering during this crisis also extend to those with severe and persistent mental illnesses as well as our under-resourced and unhoused community members.

Equitas is currently monitoring reports related to mental health care access during the pandemic, which we believe is likely under threat. Please contact us to share tips on these issues and others related to mental health and criminal justice. For more information on COVID responses, resources, and funding for mental health and criminal justice, please visit the links below.



Mental Health Resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Correctional Health Care Resources from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).

National COVID Response resources from the National Behavioral Healthcare Council (NBHC).

Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Resources.

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Resources.

Colorado Non-Profit Funding from the Colorado Community Resource Center (CRC).

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