/“We are very ill-prepared for a biological event like this” Prosecutors, sheriffs stress need to prevent COVID-19 in jails

“We are very ill-prepared for a biological event like this” Prosecutors, sheriffs stress need to prevent COVID-19 in jails

Shorter stated that this includes the dozen or so people held in jails in her southwest Mississippi jurisdiction. This area is comprised of Jefferson, Claiborne and Copiah counties. It becomes more complicated as we have fewer medical professionals than we do. Shorter was elected the top prosecutor in the district last fall. Shorter was one of three elected Mississippi prosecutors that signed onto a Fair and Just Prosecution letter last week. The group called for all other prosecutors across the country and public health officials to collaborate with them to reduce prison and prison populations and to take other steps to protect those incarcerated from the coronavirus. Shorter spoke to all three sheriffs of her district. They are adapting to the pandemic by issuing citations rather than making misdemeanors arrests and not jailing anyone for non-violent offences, she stated. Some law enforcement agencies are changing their practices to reduce contact with the public, and to keep down the number of patrol cars, as Mississippi continues to report more cases. One area of concern is jails. They are often hotbeds for infectious diseases. Multiple cases of coronavirus have been reported in U.S. prisons and jailers. This respiratory illness spreads primarily through droplets. Advocates in the United States have asked local governments to release prisoners, including those who cannot afford cash bail, elderly, and vulnerable inmates to stop the spread of this highly contagious disease. Conversations about how to stop and limit the spread COVID-19 in prisons in Mississippi have started in both more populated areas, such as Hinds and Rankin, as well in rural areas. Interviews with sheriffs revealed that some of these precautions include cancelling visitation and monitoring inmates who are suffering from symptoms. According to Will Allen, attorney for the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association, members should work with local judges and district attorneys to reevaluate their jail rosters in order to determine if inmates can be released. They also need guidance on how to screen staff and inmates for COVID-19. Allen stated that “our position is that the fewer people in jail at any given time is a good thing” and said he had spoken to several sheriffs who released 10-15 prisoners from custody. Jones County Sheriff Joe Berlin said last week that he had spoken with local justice court judges to discuss the possibility of releasing those who have paid fines or fees in his jail. Still, Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday at a news conference that there were no plans for the state to release criminal justice system inmates. According to a Prison Policy Initiative 2019 report, Mississippi has the second highest rate of jail admissions per head. The MacArthur Justice Center at University of Mississippi released new data last week showing that Mississippi had more than 5,200 inmates in county jails as of December 2019. Cliff Johnson, the center’s director in Mississippi, stated that most of them are too poor to be released on bail while they await a criminal trial. Johnson stated that thousands of Mississippians are held in local jails and share common areas, including bunk beds, toilets sinks, showers, and toilets, with dozens of people every day. The Mississippi sheriffs will tell you straight away that they don’t have the resources or expertise to handle a pandemic such as COVID-19. Others have stressed that COVID-19 will not stop them from following the law. The sheriff’s office in Rankin County is wiping down doors hourly and prescreening all people booked into jail. It’s not only us. It affects all agencies in the area. Scott Colom, Northern Mississippi District Attorney, signed the Fair and Just Prosecution Letter. He also recommended that law enforcement officers in his district issue court summons for misdemeanors and other nonviolent felonies. This would avoid exposure to personnel and jail detainees. Colom stated that some agencies might be changing their policies regarding limiting arrests and bookings internally. Colom stated that law enforcement agencies need to be cautious about what they publish publicly. “You don’t want to send the wrong message about what’s going to be tolerated.”