Releasing people from jail did not increase crime in Nashville during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union finds that many of the countries largest cities — including Nashville and Memphis — saw reductions in both jail populations and crimes reported this spring.
More research will be needed to make sense of larger trends, as the pandemic continues to impact the criminal justice system. But the initial data could encourage officials to keep jail populations low even after the virus subsides.
Nashville’s jail population dropped by nearly a quarter between March and May, compared to the same time last year. In the meantime, the number of crimes reported also dropped by more than 5%.
Metro Nashville Police Department data show that crime trends varied, depending on the type of offense. Some, including homicide, wavered from week to week, and there were a few more store burglaries than normal. But residential break-ins dropped substantially during the Safer at Home order.
Now, some legal experts and criminal justice reform advocates wonder if jail populations will remain smaller. That will likely depend, at least in part, on whether crime rates continue to stay low.
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall coordinated with the public defender and the district attorney to release many people from jail at the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Hall expanded the county’s pretrial release program and also agreed to send home some medically vulnerable inmates and others who had committed low-level offenses.
But the number of people behind bars has started to creep up in recent week, and so has the number of coronavirus cases.
More than 300 inmates and 70 sheriff’s office employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. Many cases were linked to an outbreak at the Correctional Development Center last month.
Many jails and prisons have become COVID-19 hot spots, both in Tennessee and across the country, because people live in close quarters and have limited access to cleaning supplies.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.