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.
By contrast, a Federal District Court in Michigan granted the release of an immigration detainee in Malam v. Adducci, No. 20-10829 (E.D. Mich. 2020). The detainee likewise sought to flee the risk of danger COVID-19 presents.
Texas’ Governor blocked county-wide efforts to release detainees awaiting trial.
Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott swiftly issued an executive order blocking Harris County and Dallas County from releasing certain detainees awaiting trial in light of the COVID-19 crisis. This development arrives following a finding that Harris County’s bail-bond system unconstitutionally discriminates against poor misdemeanor detainees. How Texas will reconcile its decision to block the release of detainees held in Harris County under a system found unconstitutional remains to be seen.
Wrongful death claims by families losing inmate relatives to COVID-19.
Unsurprisingly, convicted inmates and detainees awaiting trial are dying from COVID-19. And their families are outraged.
For instance, a Chicago inmate died of COVID-19 while shackled to his bed. The Chicago inmate’s family sued, claiming the shackles were unnecessary. Also, multiple detainees awaiting trial died of COVID-19 in early April 2020.
Without a doubt, the survivors of any detainee waiting for trial who dies from COVID-19 following denial of a demand for immediate release should explore legal rights. The Stone Law Office evaluates these claims for free. Dial 877-845-4441 to discuss your possible claim.