Welcome to our new newsletter. When we decided to revamp this space to bring you more context around the stories we care about, we had no idea we would be introducing it amid a very different national landscape — one where COVID-19 is dominating all of our thoughts and work. This crisis has exacerbated the issues we were already working on. It is now more critical than ever to limit the number of people incarcerated, halt the collection of fines and fees, and ensure our health care system doesn't leave people bankrupt from a surprise medical bill. We're also looking ahead to what a recession means for state and local governments. This newsletter will continue to share our work and the issues we care about, but for now it will often be through a COVID-19 lens, like so much of the rest of our lives. We would love to hear your feedback on our new format at email@example.com.
Social Distancing is Not an Option
Overcrowding. Inhumane conditions. A breeding ground for disease. And that was before the coronavirus. More than 2.3 million people live and work in U.S. prisons and jails, where social distancing is not an option. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, advocates are asking jurisdictions to compassionately release to home confinement those with nonviolent offenses, and the elderly and sick. Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer of REFORM Alliance, puts it starkly: “Yes, people committed a crime… but their sentence was to lose their liberty, not their life.”
Related: Arnold Ventures, Ford Foundation, and other philanthropies wrote an open letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling for the release of as many people as possible from New York's correctional facilities.
Left and right coalitions in criminal justice reform. Holly Harris might be my new hero. She began her career as a journalist (we have something in common!) before attending law school and working on political campaigns. But the toxicity of politics prompted her to seek a “reset,” which led her down the path of criminal justice reform. Her Justice Action Network brings together groups from across the spectrum who agree America’s criminal justice system is broken. JAN played no small role in passage of The First Step Act, and Harris has a way of cutting through the mud: “We’re in an environment now where anything is possible.”
The situation: None of the three stimulus packages recently passed by Congress contains protections for people seeking treatment for COVID-19 — and even though President Trump recently said the government would cover the cost of treating the uninsured, people with private insurance remain unprotected from getting exorbitant surprise bills for coronavirus treatment. That’s especially worrisome as hospitals are overwhelmed and more people may end up at out-of-network providers through no fault of their own.
We're excited to introduce Walter Katz as our new Vice President of Criminal Justice, overseeing the Policing team. He started as a "baby public defender" in Los Angeles during the tough-on-crime era and has a nuanced view of the role policing plays in communities, thanks to his work overseeing public safety in Chicago. His views on good policing come from something he heard at a community meeting there: "We want the police to show up when we call them, we want them to solve the problem, and we want them to treat us fairly when they do it."
We know it's coming. The good news is there's still time to prepare, since this one is more like a hurricane than an earthquake, an apt analogy from our Public Finance team. So what does that mean for the future of public pensions? Three things:
By the end of this year, we'll know more about how prepared funds were for this recession.
We'll know how committed policymakers are to public pensions. (In other words, now is not the time to reduce or skip payments.)
When the damage is done, will pension plans seek reforms?
Elizabeth Mitchell, President and CEO of Pacific Business Group on Health. She’s sheltering in place in San Francisco, but like many of us, Mitchell is still working from home. She says the coronavirus crisis has made the need for surprise billing legislation even more acute: “It’s not a partisan issue — everyone agrees something needs to be done.” And she admits that Zoom has become an invaluable phone app these days, along with the meditation app Calm. (Downloading now...)
Tyrone Walker — whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the Young Men Emerging unit in D.C. Corrections, a year to the date after he earned his freedom (visit it virtually here) — writing in The Crime Report about his personal experience with bacterial infection in a prison setting. "I spent half my life in prison—24 years, eight months and 15 days—and nothing I experienced compares to the crisis I see behind bars today."
He also did an eye-opening Q&A with us awhile back. Choice quote: "America is the only one that eats its babies."
An excellent New York Times piecethat illustrates how the switch to online learning amid COVID-19 has laid bare the disparities in students' backgrounds.
An infuriating look from ProPublica at how private-equity-backed staffing companies are cutting hours and pay of ER doctors, physician assistants, and nurses in the middle of a pandemic.
California making a major move to reduce the spread of coronavirus by setting bail at $0 for most misdemeanors and low-level felony offenses, via The Appeal.
Positive policy changes in probation and parole as a result of coronavirus. Officials across the country are moving away from jailing people for technical violations, The Marshall Project reports, a move toward decarceration we hope persists.
Keri Blakinger's gut-wrenching first-person account of why sheltering in place is so terrifying for someone who has lived through solitary confinement in prison, via The Marshall Project.
The Twitter rant that's winning the Internet. Frozen beef brand Steak-umms went viral with a thread about its beef (sorry) with misinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic and the importance of good data vs. anecdotes. It warms our evidence-based hearts.
Finally, this fascinating look at what everyone’s getting wrong about the toilet paper shortage.It pairs nicely with:
By Stuart Buck, Arnold Ventures Vice President of Research
President Trump has promoted a potential "game changer" treatment for COVID-19: hydroxychloroquine (typically used for malaria and inflammatory diseases). His tweet cited a French study claiming that hydroxychloroquine plus an antibiotic led to dramatic reductions in levels of the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, that study was terrible. First, it wasn't randomized, and the researchers didn't even try to control for all the ways that the treatment and control groups were different. Second, the sample size was only 36. Third, six patients in the treatment group were left out of the analysis entirely, five of whom had gotten worse (one quit the treatment due to nausea, three transferred to the ICU, and one died). No wonder hydroxychloroquine had good results, when the patients who got worse or even died were ignored in the analysis!
It's understandable that some doctors might try anything to help their patients. But we need to wait for rigorous RCTs (which are underway) before pronouncing anything a game-changer.
Further reading: Jonathan Ellen, a pediatrician and epidemiologist, highlights three important elements of well-designed RCTs as they would relate to COVID-19 for City Journal.
Some Final Inspiration
The air is cleaner. The water is more clear. Could climate change awareness be an unintended benefit of the worldwide shutdown, asks NBC? Either way, The Lorax would approve, and what's putting a smile on my face these days is YouTuber Wes Tank reading from that classic Dr. Seuss book to the old-school beats of Dr. Dre. If you're looking for something to entertain the kids at home (and yourself) I recommend watching the delightful performance below (as well as his rendition of "Fox in Socks." I consider it a personal challenge to get through that book's lyrical tongue-twisters without messing up when I read it to my children, and he nails it.)
Stephanie Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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