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: 161516

Reported Deaths: 3916
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10708104
Hinds10519205
Harrison7555113
Jackson6708128
Rankin6130112
Lee547697
Madison5202110
Forrest400187
Jones382189
Lauderdale3727147
Lafayette344057
Washington3367108
Lamar307550
Lowndes261167
Oktibbeha259962
Bolivar250185
Panola240253
Neshoba2311122
Marshall227151
Leflore213991
Monroe212278
Pontotoc211231
Lincoln200867
Sunflower195555
Warren184958
Tate184051
Union176826
Copiah172540
Pike168360
Pearl River163870
Yazoo162940
Scott162730
Itawamba162637
Alcorn160428
Coahoma157844
Prentiss156732
Simpson155153
Adams148352
Grenada147145
Leake143344
Holmes135761
Covington135541
Tippah132530
George131725
Winston131726
Hancock130942
Wayne124924
Attala124735
Marion124248
Tishomingo114844
Chickasaw112132
Newton112129
Tallahatchie100727
Clay97127
Clarke95653
Jasper88523
Stone83115
Calhoun81513
Walthall79930
Montgomery78826
Carroll76315
Smith75716
Lawrence75214
Yalobusha74428
Noxubee74217
Perry69326
Tunica63519
Greene63022
Jefferson Davis60217
Amite59315
Claiborne59316
Humphreys55719
Quitman5117
Benton50518
Kemper49318
Webster47914
Wilkinson41322
Jefferson38712
Franklin3726
Choctaw3697
Sharkey33117
Issaquena1234
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 260359

Reported Deaths: 3776
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34716513
Mobile20452370
Madison14215153
Tuscaloosa13755173
Montgomery12731243
Shelby1110278
Baldwin9341137
Lee801566
Morgan722855
Etowah692170
Calhoun6809121
Marshall675058
Houston552739
DeKalb512940
Cullman480246
St. Clair460357
Limestone455046
Lauderdale443357
Elmore432567
Walker3861112
Talladega381157
Jackson361623
Colbert341546
Blount315845
Autauga289342
Franklin262634
Coffee257717
Dale244454
Dallas234932
Chilton233641
Covington232434
Russell23153
Escambia206932
Tallapoosa190291
Chambers187551
Clarke164120
Pike163814
Marion148236
Winston144725
Lawrence137336
Pickens129720
Geneva12818
Marengo126724
Bibb125238
Barbour121429
Butler120042
Randolph107022
Cherokee106724
Hale101432
Fayette99916
Clay94825
Washington93921
Henry8996
Monroe84611
Lowndes82629
Cleburne80714
Macon77122
Crenshaw73330
Conecuh72914
Lamar7258
Bullock70919
Perry6987
Wilcox65518
Sumter59522
Greene44518
Choctaw43519
Coosa3824
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