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.

Confirmed Cases: 31257

Reported Deaths: 1114
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds253640
DeSoto162016
Madison131434
Jones112849
Neshoba99271
Rankin95112
Harrison93311
Lauderdale91079
Forrest87842
Scott77315
Jackson63816
Copiah60715
Washington5919
Leake57819
Holmes55741
Lee55219
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51618
Yazoo5136
Lowndes49413
Leflore49151
Grenada4905
Lincoln46634
Lamar4657
Pike44112
Monroe40330
Sunflower4008
Lafayette3934
Attala36123
Covington3595
Panola3526
Bolivar34014
Newton3399
Simpson3233
Adams31318
Pontotoc2926
Tate28810
Marion28411
Chickasaw27918
Claiborne27910
Noxubee2678
Winston2666
Jasper2636
Pearl River25732
Clay25111
Marshall2343
Smith21811
Union2109
Clarke20724
Walthall2045
Coahoma2016
Kemper17914
Lawrence1782
Yalobusha1737
Carroll16611
Humphreys1509
Tallahatchie1374
Itawamba1368
Montgomery1352
Calhoun1324
Tippah13111
Hancock13013
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1124
Jefferson1083
Prentiss1083
Greene1058
Tunica1053
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George893
Tishomingo831
Quitman780
Choctaw744
Alcorn712
Perry674
Stone651
Franklin452
Benton380
Sharkey380
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45263

Reported Deaths: 1007
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5410152
Montgomery4158103
Mobile4129134
Tuscaloosa232142
Marshall172410
Madison14917
Lee141137
Shelby133423
Morgan11215
Walker97824
Elmore94314
Franklin89814
Baldwin8949
Dallas8919
Etowah75013
DeKalb7375
Chambers64227
Butler63428
Autauga61012
Tallapoosa60569
Russell5650
Houston5074
Unassigned50323
Limestone5010
Lauderdale4966
Lowndes47221
Cullman4594
Pike4375
Colbert4086
St. Clair4022
Escambia3966
Coffee3812
Calhoun3765
Covington3707
Bullock36910
Barbour3532
Talladega3177
Hale31421
Marengo31211
Dale2990
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Jackson2842
Clarke2776
Winston2633
Chilton2522
Blount2431
Monroe2392
Pickens2366
Marion23313
Conecuh2107
Randolph2099
Macon1999
Choctaw19512
Bibb1941
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1117
Lawrence1100
Cherokee1027
Geneva830
Lamar781
Fayette711
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne381
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