The coronavirus pandemic taught us a lot last year.

We learned that a lot of jobs can be done remotely, that people who staff the cash registers at stores are among the more valuable workers and that we can get through a lot of things we didn’t think we could

And the Vera Institute of Justice says if we continue to follow the COVID-19 guidelines at county jails, we could save $30 million a year.

In testimony recently before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary, Beatrice Halbach-Singh, a Vera research associate, said that the average Kentucky county spends $3.3 million — 15% of its budget — on jails.

But she said that in 2020, the state’s jail population shrank 28% while officials tried to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Halbach-Singh told the committee that that shows how money can be saved when people charged with low-level, non-violent crimes — and who pose no threat to public safety — are allowed to wait for trial at home.

The report said that the state’s rural counties have the highest jail populations and spend the most on jails.

They also spend a bigger slice of their budgets on jails.

Jasmine Heiss, Vera project director, told the committee, “I think there is a real policy question of whether there are some offenses for which jail bookings in the future can continue to be avoided altogether, particularly with an emphasis on diversion or referral to services for people who struggle with mental health issues, with substance use and generally with poverty.”

Reducing the time an inmate spends in a jail while waiting for trial also can reduce jail costs, she said.

PrisonPolicy.org says Kentucky incarcerates 869 people for every 100,000 in the population.

That’s well above the national rate of 698 per 100,000.

The Vera report says more than 23,000 Kentuckians were in local jails in late 2019.

That dropped to 18,658 a year later.

Whether we decide to follow these recommendations or not, it’s at least something to think about.

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