As the coronavirus pandemic has been spreading at an alarming rate, officials have enforced measures such as social distancing and closures of non-essential establishments in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading further. That said, numerous prisons are also trying to put contingency plans in place, as their inmate populations could pose a threat to prisoners and staff, subjecting them to potentially contracting the virus. Some jails have opted to release inmates to avoid spreading COVID-19, while the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, which has faced major scrutiny due to inmate deaths, as well as videos revealing their inhabitable conditions, has not mentioned testing inmates, but are temporarily suspending inmate transfers from county jails and visitation.
An attorney representing inmates at the Mississippi prison filed a motion on Monday requesting emergency relief in light of the coronavirus outbreak, according to MSN. The motion was filed in federal court asking a judge to order the Mississippi Department of Corrections to facilitate immediate testing for all inmates and employees at the prison. The motion is part of an existing lawsuit.
The lawsuit said, “In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Parchman inmates are helpless in the most literal sense of the word, and without Court intervention, the MDOC will default to the same feckless approach to crises that has become the norm at Parchman.”
The prison has been described by inmates to have “mold, flooding in cells and rat and roach infestations,” which was also seen in video footage that surfaced revealing the conditions of the prison.
The lawyers representing the prisoners also asserted that those who are more susceptible to the virus, as well as those who are showing symptoms, should receive priority testing. “If said adequate testing kits are unavailable or scarce, then the most concerning symptoms — fever and cough — should be tested first,” the lawsuit continued.
The attorneys are also demanding quarantines for patients who may test positive for the virus, have been exposed to it or are displaying symptoms. Additionally, they are seeking a 14-day quarantine for new inmates entering Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
The filing included a demand that officials heighten cleaning measures for public spaces and high-travel areas, also calling for inmates to be given hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap for free.
The Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman houses about 2,100.
Meanwhile, other prisons are releasing vulnerable inmates amid the outbreak to break the virus from spreading.
Mecklenberg County Jail in Charlotte has scheduled to release about four dozen inmates, as part of an “ongoing case-by-case analysis by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys of who needs to be in custody during the emerging pandemic and who does not,” to avoid the spreading of the virus, according to WBTV. According to reporter Paige Pauroso of WBTV, Mecklenberg had 14 confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday and the number rose to 30 on Thursday.
According to The Appeal, San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju said on Tuesday that his office’s attorneys “will begin filing motions to seek the immediate release of all clients being held pre-trial in San Francisco county jails who are at heightened risk for illness from coronavirus.” These inmates include those who are over age 60, as well as those with medical conditions such as heart and lung disease.
According to the New York Post, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday evening, “In the next 48 hours, we will identify any inmates who need to be brought out because of either their own health conditions — if they have any pre-existing conditions, etc. — or because the charges were minor and we think it’s appropriate to bring them out in this context,” adding, “That said, we still need our criminal justice system to function.”
De Blasio’s statement comes after a correction officer and an inmate both tested positive for coronavirus.
On another note, Los Angeles is taking similar measures by releasing inmates and making fewer arrests to avoid and outbreak in the jails and prisons, according to BuzzFeed.
“Our population within our jails is a vulnerable population just by who they are, where they are located, so we’re protecting that population from potential exposure,” Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Monday.
Villanueva also said that they are reducing the number of arrests per day from 300 to 60.
Los Angeles County is the country’s largest prison system in the U.S.