Inmates exposed to COVID-19

Inmates exposed to COVID-19

Prisons and jails in the age of COVID-19.

COVID-19 virus cases are rising. Convicts and those awaiting criminal trial are vulnerable too. The number of inmates exposed to COVID-19 is rapidly rising as well. Families of inmates who died of COVID-19 are suing for wrongful death.

In response, inmates possibly exposed to COVID-19 are bringing 8th Amendment claims. Inmates awaiting trial demand immediate release, trying to avoid the virus.

Undoubtedly, exposure to COVID-19 presents a risk of serious injury, death or both. It follows that the risk sets up an 8th Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim. Therefore, these developments in 8th Amendment matters are unsurprising.

Incarceration indeed prevents social distancing. As a result, United States jails and prisons struggle to create a response that beats the pace of the disease. Whether courts will honor injury or death claims by or on behalf of inmates is developing.

Inmates awaiting trial demand immediate release to avoid COVID-19.

Recognizing COVID-19 presents a clear and danger, inmates awaiting trial are asserting 8th Amendment cruel and unusual punishment and other claims, and demand immediate release. Despite the grave dangers, courts are largely denying the demands.

For example, in April 2020, a Minnesota Federal District Court in US v. Graham, Case No. 19-cr-185(2) declined a pre-trial inmate’s demand for immediate release. The inmate rightly claimed COVID-19 presented a threat of injury or death. However, The Minnesota Court disagreed the inmate was exposed, reasoning the jail sufficiently sanitized the institution to prevent the diseases’ spread.

Likewise, the Federal Court in Soto v. Governor of the State of New Mexico, Case No. CV 20-003170 denied a petition for immediate release by 25 inmates waiting for trial in state court. The detainees sought alternative detention, specifically ankle monitoring. While the court sympathized with the petitioners, it dismissed the petition.