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Jail In The Age of Coronavirus: Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

Posted on behalf of Donahue & Walsh, P.C. | March 23, 2020

As far as we’re concerned it’s always a good idea to avoid spending time behind bars. However, avoiding jail during these tumultuous times can be a life or death issue due to the dangers posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In free society we are being asked to practice social distancing in order to prevent the transmission of the virus, slowing the spread in order to “flatten the curve” and limit the impact the virus has on our medical resources.

Social distancing is a luxury that jail inmates don’t have.  Whether they are eating in groups of 100 or showering in shifts of 50, the opportunities for the virus to spread in tight enclosures filled with people are always present.

According to a report by Vox, experts are sounding the alarm, saying that the “next site of a deadly coronavirus outbreak may not be a cruise ship, conference, or school. It could be one of America’s thousands of jails or prisons.”

If such an outbreak was to occur it could infect or kill hundreds – even thousands – of prisoners/inmates, but also spread to nearby communities via visitors, correctional staff, and off-site healthcare providers. This is a scary proposition in a country where 2.3 million people are locked up on any given day.

The judicial system has taken notice of the implications and taken action accordingly. For example, Florida’s Department of Corrections announced “it would be restricting new inmate intakes to its prisons amid the coronavirus scare and courts will significantly scale back operations.” Even trial by jury – part of the bedrock of our criminal justice system – will be suspended 30-60 days.

We may not know when but we know one thing is certain: we will get through this. But what will the long-term implications of coronavirus be on our justice system? Will a dangerous outbreak occur in one of our country’s correctional facilities? If so, will the aftermath contribute to the existing momentum for criminal justice reform and the efforts to lock up fewer of our fellow citizens?

Time will tell. Until then, keep a safe distance and wash your hands.

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