June 03, 2020
Colleen Clark-Bernhardt, Criminal Justice Council Coordinator
County Board

Research around jail population reduction and COVID 19



As Dane County experiences community spread of COVID-19, the Dane County Criminal Justice Council has worked collectively to mitigate the impact of the virus--with a focus on the most vulnerable in our community.  In short, this crisis has forced many agencies to change the way they operate. An analysis of the full impact of changes in policies and practices during this crisis requires further research.



The Dane County Criminal Justice Council today announced a new research partnership with Professor John Eason, University of Wisconsin-Madison, to determine the impact of jail population reduction on the incidence of COVID-19 in the jail, as well as a projection of COVID-19 infection if the reduction had not occurred.   



Professor Eason is currently an Associate Professor of Sociology at UW-Madison.  Eason previously served as Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, as well as Assistant to Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University.  His primary research interests link race, health, punishment, and inequality to community processes.


“We have worked diligently with law enforcement, Courts, and Department of Corrections to safely reduce our jail population by almost 40 percent,” said Sheriff Dave Mahoney.  “The inmates and staff in the jail are my top priority and I am taking every possible option to release non-violent offenders.  I welcome this opportunity to partner with a top researcher to learn critical lessons.”


The study will project COVID-19 staff and inmate infection if the Dane County jail population had not been reduced, but rather had remained the same as pre-COVID 19.

“Controlling COVID-19 is a critical part of “flattening the curve” in confined spaces. Given the acute, airborne nature of COVID-19, the lack of social distance inside jail facilities poses a severe public health risk for us all. I am working with the Dane County Criminal Justice Council to flatten the COVID curve by examining trends in incarceration during this period,” said Professor Eason. 


Professor Eason expects the initial report to be complete by the end of June, with follow up reports occurring over the remainder of the year.