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Analysis: More review for some pretrial cases during virus

The leader of the Mississippi Supreme Court says he will require some judges to more frequently review who is being held in county jails during the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Apr 26, 2020 8:50 PM

JACKSON, Miss (AP) — The leader of the Mississippi Supreme Court says he will require some judges to more frequently review who is being held in county jails during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Justice Mike Randolph issued an administrative order Thursday saying all court districts or counties that have not reviewed conditions of release for all pretrial detainees in the past 30 days must do it soon. It's a step short of setting a statewide mandate, after trial judges in some parts of the state said the reviews are happening on a regular basis.

Randolph's order sets an April 30 deadline for the person in charge of a jail — usually the sheriff — to provide a list of all people being held while awaiting indictment or trial, the charges upon which they are being held and the date they were most recently taken into custody.

The order also sets a May 7 deadline for the senior circuit judge in the area, or another judge designated by the senior judge, to review “the conditions for every pretrial detainee who is eligible for bail.”

Randolph's order notes the potential for dangers created by COVID-19 “within the unique context of detention centers” and it says judges may consider the real or potential impact of the highly contagious virus within a particular jail when reviewing conditions for release.

Many pretrial detainees in Mississippi are held for months because they cannot afford to post bail. And in some jails, inmates sleep in “open bay” settings, with multiple beds in a single large room — circumstances that make social distancing impossible.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

April 9, the Mississippi attorney general and the state public defender filed a joint motion seeking a temporary change in rules governing the criminal justice system. They requested more frequent judicial review of pretrial detainees' status in county jails statewide. They raised concerns that COVID-19 could overwhelm the jails’ health care capabilities.

“Stated simply, it is extremely difficult for Mississippi sheriffs to comply with the CDC guidelines in jails where close physical proximity is a reality, access to protective equipment is limited, effective quarantine space is scarce or entirely unavailable, and exposure to those moving in and out from the ‘free world’ is unavoidable,” the attorney general’s office and the public defender’s office wrote.

Rules require sheriffs to produce jail census information seven days before the beginning of a circuit court term for hearing criminal cases. In some parts of the state, court terms are months apart, which means the cases of pretrial detainees can go without review for long periods.

Public defender Andre de Gruy sought weekly reviews. Attorney General Lynn Fitch sought them biweekly.

Several Mississippi judges filed documents opposing even a temporary rules change, saying it would create more work for sheriffs and others who are already stretched to do their jobs under stressful circumstances.

Fitch, a Republican elected statewide last year, did an about-face on the issue. In a document filed Wednesday, the attorney general's office withdrew its part of the joint motion.

“Judges, sheriffs, prosecutors and public defenders are closely monitoring the jail population,” the attorney general's office wrote in the new document. “Steps taken in some districts are even more than what was requested.”

In December, about 2,500 people had been jailed longer than 90 days, and more than 575 had been jailed more than a year awaiting trial in Mississippi, according to figures released in March by the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi law school. Those are similar to the figures from November 2018.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 513622

Reported Deaths: 10264
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34892556
DeSoto33234432
Hinds32638641
Jackson24854389
Rankin22507403
Lee16337242
Madison14922283
Jones14113247
Forrest13766259
Lauderdale12270324
Lowndes11305193
Lamar10659140
Pearl River9719244
Lafayette8846143
Hancock7836132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7210138
Monroe7010179
Pontotoc6990109
Warren6863178
Panola6759134
Neshoba6730210
Marshall6678141
Bolivar6445151
Union638297
Pike5928156
Alcorn5879107
Lincoln5530136
George510180
Prentiss503884
Tippah491482
Itawamba4844107
Scott477899
Adams4768125
Tate4756116
Leflore4729144
Copiah456495
Yazoo456491
Simpson4546117
Wayne443072
Covington433695
Sunflower4299106
Marion4277112
Coahoma4237109
Leake413990
Newton395781
Tishomingo383593
Grenada3777109
Stone365866
Jasper340666
Attala338290
Winston317892
Chickasaw315467
Clay312278
Clarke301195
Calhoun285049
Holmes271889
Smith269052
Yalobusha243947
Tallahatchie231553
Greene224749
Walthall221666
Lawrence218740
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster205348
Noxubee188742
Montgomery181657
Carroll174541
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152939
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134338
Humphreys131239
Franklin125529
Quitman107628
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65221
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845284

Reported Deaths: 16116
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161552006
Mobile742111380
Madison53307732
Shelby38338368
Baldwin38085589
Tuscaloosa36022641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25562263
Calhoun22586518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20018517
Marshall18782316
Houston17731425
St. Clair16884358
Limestone16148218
Cullman16054303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14989306
Talladega14196299
DeKalb12972269
Walker12030380
Blount10717192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10162194
Coffee9417192
Colbert9342208
Dale9020191
Tallapoosa7256201
Russell708165
Chilton7018170
Escambia6957143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5406130
Dallas5285209
Pike5119109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369580
Butler3435100
Marengo342493
Monroe337266
Randolph334867
Pickens333188
Fayette330385
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317863
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244864
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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