Part 5: COVID-19 and Jails
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
The Corona virus is known to be a very contagious virus. One of the tools the government has used to combat the virus is to use social distancing so that it contain the rapid spreading of pandemic. Schools, bars, restuarants have all been closed to try to limit human interaction. No matter the closures, the one place that remains a critical threat are the jails.
Jails and prisons are confined areas that force great amounts of people together. The jails are trying their best to disinfect the areas as much as possible. However, the Department of Corrections (DOC) is very concerned that once a person gets the virus in jail that it will spread very quickly.
In order to stop the people in the jail from contracting the virus, last week DOC has suspended any non-attorney jail visits. In order to not violate a defendant's constitutional rights, DOC cannot suspend attorney visits, but they are seeking ways to limit contact.
One way is that the DOC is trying to set up a teleconference system so that attorneys and clients can meet online. Regarding the phone system inmates can call out to an attorney, but an attorney cannot call the jail and speak with their client. Another issue with phone calls is that they are recorded. An attorney's phone conversation with his or her client is not supposed to be recorded, but many times it is "accidentally" recorded, making attorneys and inmates very wary to speak over the phone. It is unclear when the new teleconference system will be up and running or if it will ever be set up. However, many lawyers will be concerned regarding the privacy for the teleconference.
With the inmates being forced into close proximity, once the virus is in the jails it looks like it will be impossible to keep it from spreading. Aside from the issue of COVID-19 spreading quickly, the jails are also concerned about their health system. Jails have their own health staff, but they are not equipped to deal with a vast amount of people being sick at one time. When they are complications, the jails generally don't have facilities to deal with them and will bring those inmates to a local hospital.
In the recent days there has been reports of people testing positive for COVID-19 at the Bridgewater, Norfolk jail and the Plymouth jails. What may happen in the next month could be a real problem.