facebook linkedin twitter

Prosecutors Oppose Inmate Releases Despite Jails Spreading Coronavirus

April 27, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Prosecutors Oppose Inmate Releases Despite Jails Spreading Coronavirus
A line at the Men's Central Jail. (Maria Alejandra Cardona/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Some federal prosecutors are opposing the trend of granting inmates supervised release from jail to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In U.S. District Court filings, federal prosecutors argue most of the inmates asking for home confinement instead of jail have failed to prove they are at risk of contracting the disease. They also say the inmates cannot prove they no longer create a danger to the public.

Some judges agree with the prosecutors but an equal number say risks from the pandemic are a higher priority.

The rulings coincide with the spread of the deadly virus in jails nationwide, perhaps turning them into incubators for the disease, according to medical experts.


“It should not surprise the court that scores of detained defendants have emerged alleging various underlying health conditions,” says a filing by prosecutors this month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

However, “the government is left to speculate as to the nature of the condition, the acuteness of the condition and whether the risk justifies the extraordinary acquiescence to release,” the filing says.

Only a few miles from where prosecutors are arguing their cases in the nation’s capital, jail guards tried to halt an inmate protest this week over the coronavirus lockdown. Inmates were shouting in protest through their cells and refusing to take their hands out of food slots.

They say they have not been allowed to shower for days, call their families on phones or contact their attorneys.

The number of inmates in Washington, D.C., diagnosed with coronavirus is approaching 150.

Similar diagnosis rates are showing up among jail populations in Chicago, Detroit, three state prisons in Ohio and elsewhere nationwide. 


A disturbing finding of mass testing is that 96 percent of the inmates who tested positive for coronavirus showed no symptoms, according to a review of testing records by the news agency Reuters.

The high rate of asymptomatic inmates could indicate they are the carriers who are speeding the spread of the virus, not only in jails but also the general population.

The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate with nearly 2.3 million prisoners, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The prosecutors say they are not opposed to all prisoner releases, only the ones where the danger to society is greater than the health threat. They want the petitions for release decided on a case-by-case basis.

One recent petition that was denied came from a man awaiting trial on several outstanding warrants.

Prosecutors argued in a filing that “the defendant’s chief argument is that he has asthma and thus, he needs to be released … Respectfully (and sadly), this should come as no surprise to the court or the parties. The idea that [the Department of Corrections] would emerge unscathed from a global pandemic is doubtful. The real inquiry is the balance of interests.”

Another petition that was denied came from a man charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a minor.

“Although the defendant is in an age group that may be more susceptible to the virus … any heightened risk posed by pretrial detention does not outweigh the presumption in favor of detaining the defendant pretrial,” U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell wrote.

In a separate case of a man jailed while awaiting trial on gun and drug charges, U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss decided to release him under house arrest.


The judge said he “is now convinced that incarcerating the defendant while the current COVID-19 crisis continues to expand poses a greater risk to community safety than posed by the defendant’s release to home confinement.”

The ruling added, “The risk of the spread of the virus in the jail is palpable, and the risk of overburdening the jail’s healthcare resources and the healthcare resources of the surrounding community is real.”

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Criminal Justice

March 25, 2022
by Dan McCue
States Must Allow Prayer, Even Touch During Executions, Supreme Court Says

WASHINGTON — States must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who ask to have a priest or other representative... Read More

WASHINGTON — States must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who ask to have a priest or other representative of their faith pray aloud and even comfort them with a touch during their executions, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The case before the court was... Read More

Firing-Squad Executions Get Greenlight in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina has given the greenlight to firing-squad executions, a method codified into state law last... Read More

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina has given the greenlight to firing-squad executions, a method codified into state law last year after a decade-long pause in carrying out death sentences because of the state's inability to procure lethal injection drugs. The state Corrections Department said Friday... Read More

March 8, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrectionist Convicted After First Jury Trial Among Rioters

WASHINGTON — A Texas oil rig worker on Tuesday became the first criminal defendant from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot... Read More

WASHINGTON — A Texas oil rig worker on Tuesday became the first criminal defendant from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol to be convicted by a jury. Guy Reffitt, 49, was convicted in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., of disrupting the certification... Read More

March 4, 2022
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence for Boston Bomber

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Friday reinstated the death sentence of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, reversing... Read More

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Friday reinstated the death sentence of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, reversing a lower court ruling that held the trial court erred in seating jurors who had not been asked about their exposure to pretrial publicity. Writing for... Read More

February 28, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Jury Selection Begins for First Defendant’s Trial After Jan. 6 Riot

WASHINGTON — Jury selection got off to a rough start Monday in Washington, D.C., for the trial of accused Jan.... Read More

WASHINGTON — Jury selection got off to a rough start Monday in Washington, D.C., for the trial of accused Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionist Guy Reffitt as attorneys ran into difficulties finding objective jurors. All the prospective jurors knew about the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol to... Read More

February 22, 2022
by Dan McCue
All Three Defendants Convicted of Hate Crimes in Georgia Killing

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The three men convicted of the murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty... Read More

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The three men convicted of the murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty Tuesday morning of federal hate crimes and lesser civil rights charges. In addition the jury also found father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top