COVID-19 and the criminal justice system

How criminal justice systems around the world can find opportunities for positive action during the pandemic

COVID-19 has forced the criminal justice system to adapt, both in Canada and around the world. Crime patterns have changed throughout the pandemic and authorities have found it difficult to detect less visible crimes, such as child abuse and domestic violence.

In response, justice system leaders have initiated big changes in policy and practice at an unprecedented pace. They've introduced new working practices and technologies to facilitate remote work and have adapted protocols to prioritize high-risk offences. Our research found that these changes were made possible through a more collaborative approach between criminal justice agencies during this crisis.

While leaders are positive about the potential benefits of these changes, there are some concerns. There remains a backlog in some areas, like courts and probation services, and the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the justice system is still unknown.

To use the pandemic as a catalyst for system transformation, justice leaders are asking three fundamental questions:

  1. How can we retain the best of the COVID-19-inspired changes, while dealing effectively with the legacy of recent events? 
  2. How do we make fundamental transformations in areas where the pandemic has exposed a need?
  3. How do we gather the right evidence to ensure the best possible decisions in ongoing service transformation are made?

Based on interviews with over 50 senior leaders, the report—COVID-19 and the criminal justice system—provides answers to these questions. It also explores how the pandemic has impacted justice globally, offering examples of how leaders have responded and adapted.

This report is part of a Future of criminal justice collection.

Explore the whole series.

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