The outbreak of COVID-19 drew fresh attention to the terrible circumstances in our country’s congested prisons and jails, which have seen massive coronavirus epidemics. Notwithstanding some early improvements resulting from local jails decreasing their numbers, prison populations throughout the United States did not decrease much.
By November, jail populations had begun to creep upward again. How exactly is COVID-19 still keeping the legal system locked up?
Rising Need to Decongest the Prisons
Correctional facilities across the country reported significant population decreases in the early months of the pandemic, with the nation’s overall population falling by 18 percent in March 2020, followed by a further 11 percent decline by the end of April. However, those improvements did not persist. By November, prisoner populations had begun to rise once again, facilitating the fast growth of Covid-19 in prisons and jails due to congestion in both.
It is essential to note that the rejection of compassionate release petitions, which have been submitted by thousands of imprisoned individuals, mostly in vain, contributed to the reluctance to reduce prison populations in this country. The epidemic prompted almost 11,000 federal inmates to apply for compassionate release in the first three months after it was declared.
Correctional authorities disregarded or rejected requests in 98 percent of the cases they received from inmates. Instead of seizing the opportunity presented by the outbreak of the pandemic to significantly decarcerate, the federal court system expanded its scope.
Instead of refusing to prioritize or failing to deliver vaccines to imprisoned persons properly, several jurisdictions have taken the required measures to teach incarcerated people about the vaccination and promote worldwide recognition of the injection. When it comes to vaccinations, prison officials in California, where the goal is to have 80 percent of those incarcerated in the state’s prison system receive the shots, have been working with credible messengers both inside and outside the carceral system that encourages vaccinations among those behind bars.
To this end, the Illinois Department of Corrections designated specific currently incarcerated individuals to serve as vaccine envoys. These individuals were allowed to ask nurses and doctors questions about the vaccines before being appointed to work as prospective teachers in their respective facilities. When resolving the coronavirus problem inside prison walls, these methods of giving sufficient information and chances to get the vaccination are essential components of the solution.
As a result, some jurisdictions have started providing incentives to those who volunteer to get vaccinated against COVID-19, such as gift bags or commissary credit, in return for their participation. Although these efforts have been successful, vaccinating most of those incarcerated against the virus will not be a long-term remedy to epidemics in carceral settings. The reason is that employees entering and exiting facilities are highly likely to spread the disease unless they have also been inoculated against it.
Prison personnel throughout the nation, on the other hand, are refusing to take the vaccine in significant numbers, making the pursuit of herd immunity seem to be almost impossible. Even though it had been many months since the vaccination distribution began, just 55 percent of individuals in jail had been vaccinated by May – though the percentage varied considerably from state to state.
Recent reopenings of courtrooms in certain states, with various safety measures in place, are expected to reduce the number of detained individuals in prisons while their cases are being handled. However, the vast backlog of cases that municipal, state, and federal courts are dealing with is the most significant obstacle that the nation is facing.
Harris County, Texas, has authorized a temporary personnel boost for the district attorney’s office that would last through July 31 to address its backlog. An appeals court judge in Washington State suggested a time-limited enlargement of trial courts by hiring retiring judges, newly hired public defenders, newly hired prosecutors, and victim advocates, among other people. Today, new experienced videoconference court reporters have entered the scene to make court processes easier.
Unfortunately, these efforts to preserve the right to a speedy trial and avoid unnecessarily lengthy judicial proceedings have not been generally accepted. A federal appeals court recently upheld the pandemic-related delays in criminal prosecutions, which found that criminal defendants had not been deprived of their right to speedy trials, nor had they been unconstitutionally compelled to stay in prison as a result of the delays.
The epidemic has had a significant impact on certain aspects of the criminal justice system. However, the vast majority of people who are incarcerated have had little effect on their experience. Moreover, without vaccines, incarceration, and a clear plan to handle the case backlogs caused by the pandemic, the issue is likely to deteriorate further, putting those who are incarcerated in much-increased danger.
Meta title: Latest Happenings in the Legal System during the Pandemic
meta desc: The epidemic continues to create a slew of difficulties for imprisoned individuals, ranging from vaccination hurdles in jails to huge backlogs in the courts. Read on to learn more.