With more than half a million confirmed cases and deaths in the tens of thousands, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly one of the sternest public health challenges to face the modern world.
The US has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, recently surpassing China with the highest number of confirmed cases. Predictions are dire as public health experts raise concerns that the US may soon surpass countries such as Italy and Iran in number of deaths caused by the virus.
As infections in the US rapidly clear the hundred-thousand mark, there are serious concerns over an even deadlier possibility: an outbreak in prisons.
The US prisons systems are one of the most extensive in the world and most congested, with more than 2. 3 million people in prisons and detention centers all over the country. But it has been made abundantly clear by advocacy groups that while these inmates are separate from the general population, they certainly are not inoculated from the virus.
Consequently, an outbreak in the prison system may simply be a disaster waiting to happen. Realizing this, several states around the US have started taking measures to release inmates to half-way houses, house arrest and other alternative disposal means.
If you are currently being held in a detention center or if you have a loved one incarcerated in a prison in the US, there may be a possibility of alternative disposal or even early release.
At National Legal Professional Associates (NLPA), we are already working with hundreds of inmates to secure their release and safety. We can also help you or your loved one and your attorney process your release. Here is what you should know.
The danger of COVID-19 to prisoners
Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that the COVID-19 outbreak will stretch resources and facilities in the country. Already, dozens of health care facilities in the US have been stretched thin, with health care personnel at their wits end, and the infection shows no signs of slowing.
The serious nature of the outbreak and its risks have raised a vital question for prisons and detention centers: are the authorities well prepared for an outbreak in jails? Sadly, the answer is No.
The biggest reason for this is the congested nature of most prisons in the US. Inmates must usually share cells, with a minimum of 2-3 per cell, and most other facilities are limited and cramped. As a result, social distancing in these facilities will be difficult at best and impossible at worst. Essential supplies such as soap, water and clean laundry, which are vital to preventing infection, are strictly rationed in the prisons. Even hand sanitizer, which can prove effective in the absence of soap and water, is considered contraband in prisons due to its high alcohol content.
The probability that any outbreak will cause numerous fatalities is also high, considering the already high illness rate and delays in medical evaluation in most prisons.
There are already challenges with the disease at certain prisons, as some inmates and staff have been tested positive for the virus. A corrections employee in New York has even died of the disease.
Although some facilities stepped up measures such as cleaning and a temporary halt to visitations, there is a recognition that much more will be needed. This is why several states have started implementing measures to depopulate prisons around the country.
Country-wide measures to limit the COVID-19 outbreak by depopulating prisons
As at March 18, 2020, Los Angeles County had trimmed its prison population by more than 600, enabling inmates with less than 30 days left on their sentences access an early release. The County has also dropped its daily arrest numbers from an average of 300 to just about 60.
In Ohio as well, the Cuyahoga County Court released over 200 non-violent, low-risk people from the county lockup on March 14, 2020. Most of these individuals were released on probation or had their bonds released, while others were moved to the Ohio Department of Corrections to decongest the holding facilities.
The Arizona Department of Corrections was also recently ordered by a federal judge to lay plans before the court on how it intends to manage possible infection in state prisons. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to release certain prisoners in facilities within the city, including Rikers Island. Although, the focus will be on low-risk and non-violent who may also be at risk of the disease.
In Texas as well, about 80 inmates at the McLennan County Jail who were being held on charges of non-violent misdemeanors were released on self-recognizance. On the same day, the McLennan County Sheriff requested law enforcement agencies to limit or delay arrests for a majority of non-violent misdemeanors.
In addition to these, there is also an increasing use of compassionate release regulations to secure the release of older and health-challenged inmates. As they are at higher risk of the disease, these inmates may be able to secure early release on these grounds.
These measures implemented by states indicate the severe risk of the virus and the seriousness with which authorities are taking the risk. Inmates in most state prisons who may qualify under any one or more of the state guidelines are encouraged to assess their chances of alternative disposition or early release.
Attorney General William Barr directs BOP to increase use of home confinement
Federal corrections facilities are not left out of the current trend either. In a virtual press conference held on March 26, 2020, US Attorney General, William Barr, has directed the Bureau of Prisons to explore the use of home confinement as a means of alternative disposition.
The announcement by the Attorney General came after increased calls for the release of at-risk inmates in federal facilities. The risk is considered substantial, as about 14 inmates and 13 corrections staff in federal had already been tested positive for the virus as at March 27, 2020.
Under the directive by the Attorney General, the Bureau of Prisons is expected to consider a range of discretionary factors. These will include:
- Vulnerability to the disease (mostly due to underlying health conditions)
- Age of the inmate
- Conduct of the inmate while in prison
- Risk or danger that the inmate poses to the community
Inmates who qualify under the directive will also be put into quarantine for 14 days. This is to ensure that they do not spread the disease to their communities when they go out.
If you are currently incarcerated in a state or federal prison or if you or your loved one are being held in a detention facility, you may be able to take advantage of these measures and secure an early release.
However, expert help will be necessary to ensure you take advantage of the exact measures that fit your case and that the facts most helpful to you are presented. Here at NLPA, we can help you and your lawyer put together a successful appeal for your early release or alternative disposition.
To speak with one of our consultants about your application, please contact us today. Time may be of the essence.