As the nation implements additional policies and practices to slow the spread of the coronavirus in an all-out attempt to “flatten the curve” of the disease, virtually every component of our criminal justice system is being affected.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on out there.
In Colorado, almost all jury trials in state courts have been postponed until April (The expectation is that this hiatus will be extended for at least another month).
In making the announcement, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats wrote: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued spread of the virus throughout communities in Colorado, and in consideration of the obligation of the courts both to protect the constitutional rights and ensure the safety of the citizenry, the courts of this state can no longer continue normal operations and must for the immediate ensuing period operate on an emergency basis”.
Other states have implemented similar policies or are considering doing so.
But courts in some states are still operating as if nothing has changed.
It’s hard for me to understand how any courts are still operating – especially those that are involved in jury trials.
Just how the hell do you expect 12 people to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with one another for hours at a time – and to pay attention to what’s going on in the courtroom?
And just how long do you expect those same 12 jurors to hang out with one another in a relatively small jury room debating whether to convict someone (It would not surprise me at all if many of the guilty verdicts in such cases get overturned on appeal as defense attorneys argue that the jurors rushed to judgment so that they could get home).
Meanwhile, some federal courts are postponing trials – and/or otherwise limiting courtroom activity – while others are still operating like we’re not in the middle of a pandemic.
Hopefully, the Department of Justice will step in sometime soon – and shut down all courtroom activity for the next couple of months.
RE: Jails & Prisons
All federal prisons – and many state and local prisons and jails – have already canceled visitation for family members, friends and lawyers (Some are allowing lawyers to request waivers).
Unfortunately, the odds are very high that most jails and prisons will end up with numerous cases of coronavirus because as multiple speakers noted at a Justice Collaborative webinar last weekend, jails and prisons are “known incubators and amplifiers of disease”.
That webinar – entitled “Emergency Call: COVID-19 and the Criminal Justice System” – gathered speakers from across from the U.S. to discuss what should be done to minimize the impact of the coronavirus on the 2.3 million Americans who are currently incarcerated.
Unfortunately, most of the suggestions that were discussed during the webinar – e.g., releasing older inmates and placing them on home confinement; allowing inmates to use hand sanitizers; not admitting any new inmates until the pandemic has passed; transferring all inmates who are currently placed in solitary confinement into the general population; etc. – probably won’t be implemented.
Instead, jails and prisons will likely do what they’ve always done when confronted with any major challenge like this: i.e., lockdown the inmates and wait for things to blow over.
On-Site Reporting From Fort Devens
Because we are in regular contact with John Tighe – who, as most Frank Report readers know, is an inmate at the Fort Devens Federal Medical Center (FMC) facility – we are getting regular reports of what’s going on in that location.
For those of you who are not familiar with Fort Devens FMC, it is a federal prison located about 40 miles west of Boston that specializes in treating inmates who require specialized or long term care.
As a result, it has inmates with a wide variety of security classifications: i.e., from white-collar criminals to mobsters – and everything in between.
According to John, every inmate at the facility has serious medical issues.
That includes, but is not limited to, inmates who are double amputees; inmates who are blind; inmates who have end-stage cancer; inmates who suffer from dementia; inmates who suffer from severe mental illnesses – many of whom are on permanent lockdown; etc.
As John noted, things at Fort Devens FMC are pretty chaotic and tense.
No inmates have been tested for the coronavirus as of yet – and those who show any of the disease’s symptoms have been sent to the SHU.
In recent days, inmates have been either confined to their cells or only brought out in small groups to eat meals, go to the library, go to the commissary, etc. (This is the last week for commissary purchasing until further notice).
Because mealtimes are being staged in multiple groups rather than having all the inmates eat at once, inmates now have no more than 5 minutes to eat.
Adding to the tension about food is that microwave ovens have been removed from many of the residential units at the facility – which means that inmates in those units have no way to cook their own food.
Breaking News Regarding Coronavirus in Federal Prisons
According to another one of sources, Correctional Officers at federal prisons in Miami and Seattle have reported that inmates at both of those locations have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Based on the information that was shared during the Justice Collaborative webinar – as well as my own experience at the Metropolitan Detention Center – I expect that the infection rate at those two facilities (and virtually every other major jail and prison in the country) will eventually in the 90%-100% range.
That’s because of the crowded and unsanitary conditions that exist in most jails and prisons – and the overall poor quality medical care that is available to inmates.
Another thing that I believe will happen very quickly is that a significant percentage of guards at many jails and prisons will start calling in sick as soon as there are reports of confirmed coronavirus cases in their facilities. Once that happens, it seems inevitable to me that National
Guard troops will be called in to serve as substitute guards.
Sentencing Dates in NXIVM Case Will Likely Get Postponed
Given everything that’s going on in the criminal justice system right now, it seems very likely to me that the sentencing dates for Keith Raniere, Clare Bronfman and Kathy Russell will all get postponed until sometime in June or later.
Similarly, I doubt that sentencing dates for Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman and Allison Mack will get set before that time.
Raniere is already locked up – and will be getting credit for every day that he serves at MDC.
And the others are all in varying degrees of “home confinement” – which, while it won’t count towards their to-be-announced sentences, at least gives federal investigators a way to keep track of them.
Editor’s Note: Please ignore – and, more importantly, do not respond to – any comments that are posted by people who are trying to make light of the coronavirus. While there is certainly no reason for any of us to panic, there are many reasons for all of us to be sensible and vigilant.
If you focus on the number of people in the U.S. who are likely going to die from this illness, you can easily get freaked out. But, if instead, you focus on the extremely small percentage of our population that number represents, you’ll have a much better perspective with respect to your personal level of danger.
The vast, vast majority of us are going to get through this crisis – and get on with our lives. Please don’t do anything to lower your chances.