Tell Elected Officials to Permanently Adopt Practices That Led to Significant Reductions in WA Jail Populations Due to COVID-19

Most people currently incarcerated in our jails have been waiting several months for their trial dates. Some are elderly, have medical issues, or are otherwise vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. The extraordinary circumstances of this pandemic outbreak warrant further review of pretrial detention and the amount of bail imposed in hundreds of cases statewide.

Responses to COVID-19 have taught us many lessons. They have shown what is possible and achieved many of the reforms we have been working toward for years. Thousands of people were released to the community from Washington jails in a few weeks, and it is clear that people facing charges can remain safely in the community while their case is pending in court.

Now is the time to implement continued reductions to the jail population by permanently adopting more just policies and decarceration strategies. The most important policy change implemented in response to COVID-19 has been booking restrictions to limit who is brought to jail. Those accused of most misdemeanors and many felony offenses should not be booked into the jail. Only a very limited number of people accused of only the most serious offenses should be held until a judge makes a pretrial release decision. Booking restrictions should remain in place permanently.

Additionally, prosecutors should implement bail and pretrial policies to restrict their detention requests accordingly. Only a handful of trials have been conducted since the pandemic hit in March, yet thousands remain backlogged in jail awaiting their day in court. Sadly, jail populations are on the rise.

It should not take a public health crisis to expose the fact that Washington jails are full of people who should be released pretrial and that immediate steps can be taken to end mass incarceration.