Keep Coronavirus from Overwhelming Jails By Reducing the Population

Keep Coronavirus from Overwhelming Jails By Reducing the Population

California is in complete lockdown due to coronavirus. Those who are literally locked up, the local inmate population, will prove prime victims as the virus sweeps through such facilities. Jails are the ideal place to spread such a disease, as they consist of lots of people packed in a small area. 

Medical staff and supplies are always in short supply, and obtaining additional staff and supplies is especially difficult at this critical time. Santa Clara County is at the forefront of trying to keep people out of jail during this pandemic. 

The Numbers

Coronavirus is spreading exponentially, with states reporting a doubling of new cases daily. Please note that some of the spike in cases is due to available testing, meaning, unfortunately, a lot of people already had it and thus spiking the spread of it. On March 18, 31 elected prosecutors signed a letter noting how the inmate population has “exploded” in recent decades, with the end result of 2.3 million people incarcerated in some type of facility at present. These facilities are often dirty and overcrowded, with inmates sleeping in barracks-style conditions - conditions that are ripe for the spread of Covid-19. 

The prosecutors called a Covid-19 outbreak in such facilities “potentially catastrophic.” The facilities are not able to treat the chronic medical conditions of those already imprisoned, let alone a disaster like Covid-19. The prosecutors urge that no one is detained because they cannot afford cash bail, except for those deemed a threat to public safety. 

Postponing Sentencing and Other Tactics

It is expected that Santa Clara County judges will release approximately 20 percent of the jail population very soon, although that could change if the virus appears among inmates. However, reducing the jail population does not just mean letting low-level offenders out.

Jail population reduction also means keeping anyone who might otherwise enter a jail out for the time being. At the Santa Clara County Jail, a whopping 80 percent of those currently behind bars are awaiting sentencing. The idea is that no one found guilty of a lower-level property crime should remain in jail right now. 

Violent offenders are not eligible for release, although courts will look at the nature of the violence. For example, if someone is serving a sentence for a violent robbery, but the violence consisted of shoving the victim to obtain a purse or backpack, the offender may qualify for temporary release. Prosecutors are working with pretrial services and the public defender’s office to determine release eligibility on a case-by-case basis. 

Recommendations include postponing sentencing or changing reporting dates for low-level offenders, so they are not incarcerated during this emergency. Failing to do so could possibly further strain the jail’s meager medical resources or spread disease. Report dates may end up extended as much as six months. 

The Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office is urging the release of those serving their sentences in the jail with less than 90 days left. These inmates will return to jail in four months to complete their sentences, or, if they behave well, the remaining time is waived. Anyone detained for technical parole violations should be released. 

Other plans put into place include allowing inmates and their lawyers to meet via videoconferencing, so the latter doesn’t have to enter the facility. 

The Medically Fragile

Older and medically fragile people are more likely to die or suffer serious consequences from Covid-19. The jail has identified those inmates fitting into these categories, and agencies are coordinating their release. The over-55 population is the demographic growing most quickly among the incarcerated. 

Covid-19 has altered the face of American life and greatly affected the economy. We do not know how it will end. We do know that taking action to lower the infection rate in jails is in the best interests of our overtaxed healthcare system. 

Did You or a Family Member Contract Coronavirus While in Jail?

Our jail injury lawyers are currently investigating claims that inmates contracted coronavirus while in jail. While there are many variables to these cases, we are most interested in inmates who died or suffered permanent injuries as the result of exposure to coronavirus while in jail. (We also are interested in any claims of prison staff who died or suffered permanent injuries as the result of coronavirus contracted in jail although proving where the virus was contracted will be more difficult. Typically, staff claims are considered workers compensation claims.)

For more information, please visit our jail medical neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by email at [hidden email].

Although we try and answer every call, we are often overwhelmed and can’t return every call. Please be sure you leave a detailed message and note that we limit our practice to wrongful death, very serious injury cases, inmate miscarriages and sexual assaults by prison staff.

*About Brian Mahany. Brian is both a former corrections officer and a police officer. Brian uses his training and experience to cut through bureaucratic bs and government coverups.

We do not believe that all cops and guards are bad people. We do not hesitate, however, to vigorously prosecute cases where officers and medical staff use excessive force or fail to provide adequate care. Everyone has a right to expect quality care, respect, and dignity.


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