The COVID-19 and Prisoners’ TinderBox – The Disease’s Uniquely Perilous Threat to Inmates, Corrections Officers and Our Communities

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

In a recent court decision freeing at-risk immigration detainees from ICE custody, Federal District Court Judge John Jones used ominous and haunting language to describe the Dickensian certainty that COVID 19 will spread rampantly throughout our prisons and cause immeasurable and avoidable human suffering: “It would be heartless and inhumane not to recognize (the prisoners’) plight,” the judge wrote. “Should we fail to (order their release) … we will be party to an unconscionable and possibly barbaric result.” Indeed, it would be hard to design a living environment that presents more danger and risk to inmates, corrections officers and prison staff, their families and the community at large, that our jails and prisons.  Of course, prison walls would do little to stop the wild fire like virus from spreading to the community at large. Criminal defense attorney Andrew Shubin explains how the pandemic affects prisons and what can be done to prevent the virus from spreading among inmates.

Prisons and Social Distancing During COVID-19

Prisons, by definition, violate every aspect of the “social distancing” now required, as a matter of law, by State, Federal and local governments.  Inmates are forced to live in close and unsanitized quarters, often multiple inmates confined in a single bathroom-sized cell.  A virtual petri dish for the spread of this disease.  Corrections officers, who are not even minimally equipped to deal with this easily communicable and virulent disease, rightly fear the danger that such forced and close contact presents to themselves and their families.  How long will it be before officers and staff are quarantined or otherwise unwilling to endure the certainty that they will be unprepared and unprotected when COVID breaks out in their workplace?  How then will prisons be adequately staffed?  How then will inmates be attended to, provided medical care and other necessities?  A catastrophe is all but certain – its not if, but when.

Not only are prisoners at grave and certain risk of exposure to COVID 19, they are at higher risk of becoming gravely ill or dying.  Our jails and prisons, and our increasingly aging prison population, are filled with inmates suffering from chronic and serious medical and mental health issues.  Prisoners disproportionately suffer from high blood pressure, HIV, and diabetes which puts them at high risk of death or other severe health consequences.

Prisons are far less able to treat sick inmates, much less safely quarantine them from other inmates and staff.  Because prisons simply do not have the medical infrastructure to deal with the infected and contagious, they will necessarily have to send inmates out to our community hospitals to receive care.  This is a scenario that will quickly strain jail and prison medical capabilities and increase the pressure and risks to our community hospitals and their staff.

This is a rapidly and easily spread disease for which there is no cure and no treatment.  The situation is grim and unprecedented.  The only way to protect inmates and staff from the coming tsunami of cases and the certain severe health consequences that follow is to prevent inmates and prison staff from being infected in the first place.

How to Prevent Coronavirus Infection Among Inmates and Corrections Officers

The only effective way to protect inmates, staff and our communities is to depopulate our jails and prisons.  This is the only measure that will allow remaining inmates, those who present a significant security risk, to socially distance themselves from others.  A reduced population will provide space for quarantine, and to give medical staff, which is often minimal in county prisons, a chance to use their limited resources to provide treatment to residents.  A reduced prison population also provides corrections staff with a greater ability to keep themselves and the prisoners safe and protected.

We need to ensure that our judges and prosecutors respond to these perilous circumstances by stepping up to protect the communities they serve.  Our judges and prosecutors need to respond yesterday to these urgent and emergent threats because without immediate, decisive and consequential action, thousands upon thousands of prisoners, corrections staff and their families, and community members will become infected; many of whom will die.

Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew Shubin Is Here to Help During This Difficult Time

Shubin Law has been reaching out to families of inmates who understandably, are desperate to help their loved ones.  In many cases, the best and most expeditious way to bring these cases to the attention of prosecutors and judges is to file emergency petitions in the appropriate court.  Inmates and their families should contact the attorneys who represented them on the matter that resulted in their incarceration.  Shubin Law is also equipped to file emergency petitions under appropriate circumstances.  Please feel free to contact us to get more information on the process and our fees.


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