Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Crime and Criminal Justice System

Author: Shivalika New Law College, BVDU, Pune Editor: Diksha Bhasin New Law College, BVDU, Pune

Introduction:

COVID-19, a worldwide public health pandemic, has given rise to uncertain damage and affliction. It has turned the whole world upside down with restricted human contact, unemployment and heightened domestic strife. There is barely any facet of our life, which has been left unmarked by this pandemic. It has brought about anomic conditions striking our daily routines. It has thus affected each and every strata of the society including crimes and proscribed economies such as terrorism, cyber crime, slavery, robberies and human trafficking.

The criminal justice system is the backbone of our society and a chief characteristic of our social contract with the government which assures our discrete freedom. This situation of pandemic both restricts and expands the scope of various crimes while introducing unprecedented challenges for the criminal justice system.

Impact on crimes:

Most countries, including India went through a phase of complete lockdown for more than a month to prevent human to human transmission of Coronavirus. During this time, people were allowed only to go out for essential commodities. With anti-social elements constricted in their homes, street crimes like thefts and residential burglaries decreased. This has greatly helped in reduction of traffic accidents and fatalities as the roads were deserted and there was less traffic on major highways. But at the same time, it aided in the increase of domestic violence and abuse cases at large. Experts have also suggested that corruption and organised crimes are likely to grow in the course of the COVID-19 outburst as the police officials have less time to keep a track of these crimes.

Counterfeiting and fraud:

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “While many types of crime have fallen in recent months, we know that some people have been using this lockdown as a chance to commit offences, notably fraud – including targeting some of our most vulnerable citizens and exploiting businesses.

In the very beginning of March 2020, a large number of counterfeit surgical masks and N-95 masks were sequestrated by the authorities. Police also raided the shops which were selling overpriced masks and sanitizers and took an action against hoarders of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE kits.[1]

Cyber crime:

The COVID-19 pandemic evinced individuals and society extremely pregnable in all respects. And all these vulnerabilities are being exploited by various malicious institutions. In the course of this crisis, we are dependent more than ever on the Internet, computer systems and mobile devices to converse, to work, to shop, to receive and transmit information which has resulted in the increase of cybercrimes. As people are following social distancing and working from home, more and more corporate data is being acquired from homes that may not have the exact level of safety like office systems.[2] Some female employees are also facing problems like cyber bullying and harassment from their colleagues. This increased screen time has upraised exposure to deceitful scams and transactions. Many fraudulent sites are designed to deceive innocent people. New portals are launched to influence people to donate money for the cause of fighting COVID-19. It also aids in virus-specific hate crimes through unknown social mediums.

Uptick in Domestic Violence:

This period of Coronavirus marked an alarming gush in domestic violence cases. It increased due to the expanded periods of close proximity with the potential abuser. The major two reasons for its rise are:

  1. Loss of jobs: The men were mostly at homes. The fright and peril of losing the jobs caused tension and the wife and children became the victims of this tension.

  2. Non- availability of liquor: This has caused frustration among the people who are inured to drinking daily.

During the 2013-2016 Ebola virus spread in West Africa, there was an equivalent increase in sexual and gender-based violence. This shows the true picture of pandemics which leaves the women and children more exposed to violence. At present, there is limited help for domestic violence victims as our police and health workers are engrossed in fighting with this pandemic.

Hate Crimes:

There is a rise of hate crimes incidents against China and Asian Americans as the public associates these people with the spread of the virus.[3] In India also, the North-Eastern people faced racism and was claimed that they were spreading the virus.

Terrorist Attack:

This situation can be exploited by various terror groups to carry out terrorist attacks. The International Crisis Group has quoted that, “The pandemic will harm international counterterrorism efforts.

Impact on the Criminal Judicial System:

  1. Impact on the prisons and jails:

The most undeviating impact on the criminal justice system ensues from the concern of transmission of COVID-19 among the individuals in the prisons and individuals who controls the prison. A major problem faced by the police officials is keeping the prisons free from the virus. To control the spread of virus, various prisons have initiated to isolate prisoners who tested COVID positive from the rest of the captives. Many human rights activists are of the view that we should consider the short term release of the prisoners. As many as 34,000 prisoners were temporarily released after the Supreme Court of India directed the State Governments to a give a thought to the premature releasing of the prisoners. This perturb about contagion impose extra weight, favouring the pre-trial release, probation and parole which tends to reduce the population in the unavoidable overfilled prisons and jail environments.

  1. Closing of the Courts:

To maintain social distance, the courts have been closed temporarily which further resulted in severe consequences on the criminal justice delivery system as this will rampantly multiply the already substantial pile-up of pending cases yet to be tried, which this pandemic will only aggravate.

Many advocates and lawyers are unmindful about the usage of technology and so they can not be a part of virtual court hearings which leaves them with no work.

Conclusion:

This situation dispenses opportunities for the inspection of the justice apparatus and conducting real-world theory tests which will assist potentially to predict any such pandemic in the near future. There are some leading criminological theories like deterrence and rational choice theories, routine activities theory, self-control theory, social disorganization and social learning perspectives, which are of utmost importance while relating and studying COVID- 19 pandemic in regards with the crime and criminal justice system. A conceptual framework must be enabled by the government for the general public to discuss and inquire on the links between the virus, the crimes and the justice responses. The government including the police authorities will have to analyse this situation and may draft a guide which will include all the operating procedures in the country at the time of pandemic. This will help in managing future pandemic, if any. All in all, this situation may lead to major modifications in the crime and criminal justice system.

[1] “COVID-19: 4 lakh masks worth Rs.1 Cr. Seized in Mumbai”. 25 March 2020.

[2] “Corona virus impact: Amid ‘work from home’ trend cyber security risk increases”

[3] Margolin, Josh (March 27, 2020). “FBI warns of potential surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans amid corona virus”.

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