INMATE RELEASE FOR CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS
Lawyers are beginning to seek inmate release for coronavirus concerns for their clients — and courts and prosecutors are beginning to get behind it.
With the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, across our nation, there has been an inevitable and unfortunate spread of the virus into the nation’s jails and prisons. Federal inmates, state inmates and people in local jails are all affected, leading many lawyers to seek inmate release for coronavirus concerns. The conditions within these institutions were cramped before COVID-19, and social distancing is impossible for most inmates. Given the prohibition on alcohol and alcohol-containing products, hand sanitizer is banned in most jails and prisons. Masks are also banned.
The crowded conditions, and an inability to institute protective measures, make an ideal breeding ground for highly contagious diseases like COVID-19. The documented spread of the coronavirus through confined institutions and spaces like nursing homes and cruise ships shows that, when people are confined together in relatively close quarters, once the virus beings to spread it becomes nearly impossible to stop, with often horrific outcomes.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is especially dangerous to older people and people who suffer from a number of pre-existing medical conditions. Many of these pre-existing conditions which make people vulnerable to bad outcomes from COVID-19 are quite common, and include high-blood pressure, asthma, COPD, heart disease, emphysema, obesity, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, or any condition that make a person immunocompromised. This can include being HIV positive, but also includes many people who have cancer or are being treated for cancer by radiation or chemotherapy.
Many inmates, inmate advocacy groups, and even some people in authority are now openly advocating for the early release of some inmates in order to reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus or COVID-19 in jails and prisons.
The U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, has directed the Bureau of Prisons to reduce inmate populations by increasing where possible home confinement. BOP is notoriously slow to respond to such directives, and it is unclear whether the directive that Barr gave through a memorandum will cause any immediate or any meaningful reduction in inmate populations. Attorney General Barr has recently issued new directives concerning pretrial detainees, saying that prosecutors should consider the risk of COVID-19 when making bail recommendations in federal cases.
31 top state prosecutors from across the country have called for reducing inmate populations. They, like others, cite the possible rapid spread of coronavirus through jails and correctional facilities. The fact that over 10 million people are brought into and through our nations correctional facilities each year gives the possibility for the exchange of disease into and out of correctional facilities. If jails are to serve the purpose of protecting the public and inmates, the jail cannot be a dangerous place, and COVID-19 is making jails and prisons dangerous places for all vulnerable inmates.
By reducing inmate populations, two things are accomplished. First, inmates are removed from the “petri dish” of infection that their jail or prison has or might become. Second, inmate density is lowered, thereby (hopefully) slowing any potential spread through the institution and increasing the ability of jail and prison administrators to introduce social distancing policies.
It is however impossible to eliminate risk. There are documented cases of deputies, correction officers and civilian employees introducing disease into jails and prisons. For example, in Albany, New York, a nurse who provided medical care to inmates was found to be positive, resulting in the required isolation of 35 inmates.
The great increase in the danger resulting from confinement has prompted many inmates to seek early release, including temporary release pending trial or sentencing, as well as permanent release as a result of a modification of their sentence. Recently, several high-profile federal inmates have been released. A parent serving a sentence in federal prison in California for his role in the Varsity Blues/college admissions scandal was released early from his sentence by a federal judge who cited the outbreak of coronavirus in prison. Tekashi69 was recently released early due to coronavirus concerns arising from the fact that he suffers from asthma.