COVID-19 Response Projects

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in the U.S., prisons and jails in the U.S. are among the hardest hit with conditions worsening as the result of containment efforts, individuals suffering without healthcare, and infections spreading fast than in other communities. Prosecutors, governors, and lawmakers have the capacity to release particularly vulnerable individuals and keep populations in jails low to mitigate the impact and stop the spread. 

Communities and attorneys across the country are championing a variety of projects to keep people out of prisons and jails, free those already inside who are at grave risk, and try to secure treatment to those suffering inside. Here are some of those projects, resources, and opportunities for involvement. 

Ongoing PHI Projects

  • Open Letter to New York Governor Cuomo - On April 21, over 120 Columbia University scholars delivered an open letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, urging him to take action to protect communities by immediately reducing the New York State prison, jail, and juvenile center populations. 
  • Federal Defender Project - A federal defender and his colleagues have been trying to put together a motion for pretrial release for their elderly clients based on the high risk posed to them by COVID-19. He has a couple projects going and students are supporting him in his work researching. Some of these developments are linked in the orders and motions below. 
  • Project with Professor George Kendall - Students support preliminary research and preparation of a potential lawsuit on behalf of inmates and staff in an underresourced state to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • David Wilson with Professor Bernard Harcourt - General legal research support for Professor Harcourt in his work on behalf of client on Alabama death row.


A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons (Courtesy of the Marshall Project, last updated August 20, 2020)

NYC Jails Daily Population Tracker (Courtesy of Vera Institute)

State-by-state list of petitioners, judicial orders, executive orders, and COVID/prison news (Courtesy of Karen Neugroschl, Columbia PHI)

COVID-19 in Prisons/Jails/Imm Detention: Decisions, Templates, Confirmed Cases, Releases, Health Vulnerabilities

Orders and motions related to COVID-19

  • United States v. Marin, No. 15-cr-252, Dkt. No. 1326 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2020)
  • United States v. Hector, No. 20-4183, Dkt. No. 17 (4th Cir. Mar. 27, 2020)
  • United States v. Davis, No. 1:20-cr-9-ELH, Dkt. No. 21 (Mar. 30, 2020)
  • United States v. Meekins, Case No. 1:18-cr-222-APM, Dkt. No. 75 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2020)
  • United States v. Muniz, Case No. 4:09-cr-199, Dkt. No. 578 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 30, 2020)

Virtual Event Series: COVID-19: Advancing Rights and Justice During a Pandemic from Columbia Law

  • Flattening the Pandemic Curve While Upholding Digital and Information Rights on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 | 12:10-1:10 pm

Black Mamas' Day Bail Out 

Response and Resources from The Justice Collaborative

COVID-19 Correctional Policies & Responses (Courtesy of UCLA Law)


The Marshall Project, "The Judge Will See You On Zoom, But The Public Is Mostly Left Out"

Newsday, "NY Not Yet Moving to Release Short-Time, Vulnerable Inmates"

CNN, "51 additional people released from Rikers Island due to underlying health concern

ABC News, Judge denies release of Rikers Island inmates over COVID-19 concerns"

The Legal Aid Society, "COVID-19 Infection Tracking in NYC Jails"

The Marshall Project, "'They Don’t Care:' Families Of The Incarcerated Fear The Worst As Coronavirus Spreads

"How Attorney General William Barr's COVID-19 Prisoner Release Plan Could Favor White People"

The New York Times, "Prisoners ‘Terrified’ as Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars"

"‘We’re Left for Dead’: Fears of Virus Catastrophe at Rikers Jail"

Reuters, "Spread of coronavirus accelerates in U.S. jails and prisons"

The Wall Street Journal, "First Federal Inmate Dies of Covid-19, Deepening Fear of Coronavirus Spread in Prisons"