Attorney: Mississippi jails not prepared for virus pandemic

Cliff Johnson is the director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the Ole Miss law school. | Source: WTVA

An attorney said Mississippi's jails are not prepared to handle a coronavirus outbreak.

Posted: Mar 18, 2020 4:09 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi jails are not prepared to handle a coronavirus outbreak, and judges should consider releasing people who are waiting for trial on nonviolent crimes but cannot afford to post bail, a human rights attorney said.

Cliff Johnson is director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi law school. The center tracks jail and prison conditions, and it released new figures Wednesday showing a continued pattern of thousands of people remaining in Mississippi jails for months because they cannot afford to post bail.

Mississippi reported 34 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, though there was no indication that any were among people in jails.

Johnson said jails could become more dangerous as the new virus spreads.

“Mississippi sheriffs will be the first to tell you that they don't have the expertise or the resources to deal with a pandemic like COVID-19," Johnson said Wednesday.

In some jails, inmates sleep in “open bay” settings, with multiple beds in a single large room.

For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.

At the urging of the MacArthur Center, the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2017 ordered sheriffs to start providing information about people in county jails and how long they have been there. The center collected information from April 2018 and November 2018.

The figures released Wednesday are from May 2019, when about 2,500 people had been jailed longer than 90 days, and more than 575 had been jailed more than a year awaiting trial. Those are similar to the figures from November 2018.

“We know the vast majority are there because they can't pay bail,” Johnson said.

People who can afford to post bail are released from jail while waiting for a grand jury to consider whether to indict them on criminal charges. Johnson said: “Poor people sit in jail."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
Pearl River8569208
Lafayette8008136
Hancock7110107
Oktibbeha6764117
Washington6756146
Neshoba6350200
Monroe6304156
Warren6267159
Panola6036122
Pontotoc599292
Bolivar5960143
Marshall5917115
Union558885
Pike5424133
Lincoln5192127
Alcorn509388
George454766
Scott447392
Leflore4377138
Tippah431780
Itawamba429192
Prentiss429074
Copiah423883
Simpson4238108
Wayne419663
Tate418999
Adams4174109
Yazoo411486
Sunflower4057104
Covington404891
Marion399699
Leake389784
Coahoma385996
Newton360273
Grenada3489100
Stone342657
Tishomingo320987
Attala318285
Jasper308261
Winston298191
Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
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