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LEGAL HELP FOR MARYLAND PRISONERS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 PANDEMIC

LEGAL HELP FOR MARYLAND PRISONERS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Maryland prisoners must be released during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic is a significant health threat for prisoners in Maryland’s local jails and prisons. Maryland’s correctional facilities are facing an imminent humanitarian crisis as the Coronavirus spreads rapidly across the United States according to expert predictions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Coronavirus a pandemic. The President of the United States has declared a national emergency based on the threat from Coronavirus. Maryland’s governor and private industries are taking drastic steps to slow the spread of the disease in an effort prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. We are facing a crisis unlike anything we have seen in a hundred years.

Coronavirus is very contagious, and humans have no immunity to this new disease. It is spread by respiratory droplets when infected people cough and sneeze expelling respiratory droplets infected with the virus into the air and onto surfaces that people touch. When people are exposed to Coronavirus, they develop a respiratory disease called COVID-19. Generally, it takes fourteen days for the infected person to develop symptoms which include fever and a dry cough. Symptoms are mild to moderate in 85% of cases. Fifteen percent of cases cause severe symptoms such as pneumonia and difficulty breathing which require hospitalization. Five percent of those infected are admitted to intensive care. Two to seven percent of the people identified with Coronavirus die from the disease. The cause of death is usually respiratory failure or organ failure.

Certain individuals are more likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19 and die. Persons in the high-risk category are those above age sixty and people with health conditions that impair lung function and compromise the immune system. High risk conditions include hypertension (high blood pressure), liver disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular (heart) disease, congestive heart failure, cancer, emphysema, asthma, COPD, and any diseases or health conditions that compromise the immune system or respiratory (lung) function. A combination of being over age 65 and having a pre-existing health condition create an especially high risk.

Prisoners in the custody of local jails and prisons in Maryland are especially vulnerable to the potentially serious illness caused by the Coronavirus, COVID-19. The CDC recommends social distancing and Maryland’s governor has banned gatherings of more than 250 people to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. Social distancing is impossible in jails and prisons. Correctional facilities must confine large groups of prisoners and staff close together indoors. These groups sleep, eat, bathe, etc. in close proximity. Jails are not sanitized effectively like hospitals. Prisoners do not have the same access to hand-sanitizer, sinks, showers, soap and clean clothes as persons living in the community. The impossibility of proper sanitation and social distancing in correctional facilities means that once a person infected with Coronavirus enters a jail the virus will spread easily and rapidly to other prisoners and staff.

New prisoners are introduced to jails and prisons every day when new inmates arrive. Each new prisoner is a potential carrier of Coronavirus. The new prisoners may not show symptoms upon entry because of the fourteen-day incubation period for the virus. Jails do not have the space to quarantine every new prisoner for fourteen days to make sure they are not infected. Prisoners are exposed to correctional officers who enter and leave the facility every day. Correctional officers are exposed to potentially infected persons in the community and will unknowingly bring the disease into the jail spreading the virus to inmates.

The prison population is particularly vulnerable to serious complications and death from COVID-19 because they are, on average, not as health as the general population. Many prisoners are former and current drug users and alcohol abusers. Narcotic drug use and alcohol abuse compromise the body’s ability to fight infections and damages organs essential to fight disease such as the liver and kidneys. Prisoners do not have the same access to quality medical care and medications to maintain the health needed to fight diseases. They also live in a stressful, sleep deprived environment with limited exercise opportunities.

Correctional facilities will quickly face a humanitarian and management crisis when Coronavirus infection is introduced into the prison population. We have already seen infections spread easily and widely on cruise ships. Efforts to quarantine cruise ship passengers in their private rooms were not effective at stopping the spread of the disease. It is not possible to quarantine prisoners in private rooms. It is reasonable to conclude that Coronavirus will spread easily through a prison population. Correctional officers must have close contact with prisoners to supervise, search, feed, and even handcuff them. At a nursing home in Kirkland Washington, where 20 patients have died from COVID-19, at least 60 of the 120 staff members have tested positive for Coronavirus even though they are equipped with protective medical clothing. It is inevitable that a significant number of correctional officers will become infected with Coronavirus, become sick, and be unable to work due to illness or quarantine. Many correctional officers will refuse to report to work out of fear of infection. This will result in serious staff shortages. Available staff will be required to work longer hours causing sleep deprivation and stress. Staff shortages will mean that the correctional facilities will not be able to provide adequate security, sanitation, food, diagnosis, and medical care to the inmates. These limitations will increase the vulnerability of the inmates and staff to serious complications and death from infection.

For the above reasons our prisons are facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Thus far the State and local governments in Maryland have not taken the drastic steps necessary to significantly reduce the substantial immediate threat the Coronavirus pandemic poses to the prison population. The only measure that can adequately protect the prison population from a catastrophe is to release the prisoners from confinement. Obviously, in many instances this will not be deemed possible by a society and criminal justice system that deems it necessary to confine a large amount of the population.

There are many prisoners confined in our jails that can reasonably be temporarily released until the threat from this pandemic subsides. First and foremost, prisoners who are confined pending trial can be released while they wait for trial. There are many suspects in our local jails held without bond until trial. These suspects are innocent until proven guilty and should not be subjected to an imminent threat of death from COVID-19 in jail before they are convicted of a crime. Release of the pretrial inmates will save lives, reduce the burden on the correctional facilities and possibly permit more social distancing within the jail. The released individuals could be supervised by pre-trial services, electronic monitoring and home detention. It is a moral and humanitarian imperative to release pretrial inmates ages sixty and older and those with pre-existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19.

There has been little, if any, publicly expressed concern in the media, government or general public for the impact this pandemic will have on jail inmates. Prisoners are wards of State and local government and at their complete mercy during this health emergency. In the beginning of this pandemic the government has proven ineffective at providing all the services and competent leadership necessary to mitigate the harm of the Coronavirus pandemic. The federal government failed to implement a testing system which was a fundamental requirement to slow the spread of the disease. The President denied the existence of a serious threat from the disease during the crucial first weeks of the pandemic losing precious time in the early fight to contain the spread in the United States. He called the threat a Democrat hoax. The President’s early public proclamations continue to resonate with the public causing many people not to take the threat seriously. We cannot count on the executive branch of government to implement timely measures to protect the prison population when they are failing to effectively protect the general public. Someone needs to do something to help our forgotten class of citizen, prisoners, during this pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, all Maryland courts were closed until April 3, 2020. There will be no trial during this period. This closure will significantly delay the time it takes to get cases to trial and extend the time suspects are held in jail pending trial at enhanced risk of infection. The Courts will still entertain some essential proceedings such as bond review hearings, emergency petitions for release, and writs of habeas corpus. Some motions may be granted without a hearing or hearings may be conducted using closed circuit television. Although courthouses are closed to the public, lawyers can file motions electronically.

At the MacDonald Law Office, LLC, in Salisbury, Maryland we are concerned about the imminent humanitarian health crisis threatening the prison population in Maryland including ECI, Wicomico County Detention Center, Worcester County Jail, Somerset County Jail, and Dorchester County Detention Center. We are criminal defense attorneys. It is our job and our mission to protect the rights, life and liberty of citizens in the criminal justice system. We fight for those who are forgotten and outcast by the general public. We believe that those charged and convicted of crimes are still human beings worthy of grace, mercy and protection. While the government, media, corporations, and general public are concerned about their cancelled vacations, cruise ship passengers and NBA fans missing games we are thinking about the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the prison population. We are thinking ahead and planning for the impact of the Coronavirus on the prisoners and seeking ways to help reduce the risk. Unlike the government, we are striving to stay ahead of the curve of the Coronavirus crisis.

The MacDonald Law Office may be able to help get your loved one out of jail or prison to help protect them from the Coronavirus pandemic. If a prisoner is in jail waiting for a trial we can file a motion for an emergency bond review. We will petition the court to release a pre-trial prisoner on their own recognizance or with an unsecured bond. As lawyers with access to the Maryland electronic filing system, we can file motions with the courts electronically even though the courts are closed to the public. On March 13, 2020, the MacDonald Law Office filed an emergency motion for bond review for a current client held in the Wicomico County Detention Center without bond pending his trial. The motion was based on the Coronavirus pandemic and the clients high risk category due to his age and pre-existing health conditions. A copy of this motion can be viewed HERE. This was the first motion of its kind filed in Wicomico County. The MacDonald Law Office is ahead of the curve.

This is uncharted territory because we are at the beginning of an unprecedented national emergency. The situation is changing extremely quickly. The MacDonald Law Office cannot guarantee that any emergency motion for release will be granted by the court. Prosecutors won’t make it easy. The Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office filed an objection to the motion for bond review filed by the MacDonald Law Office. Apparently, there will be no foresight, compassion, or humanitarianism shown by prosecutors during this crisis. Thankfully, the courts, not the prosecutors, will determine the fate of prisoners. The courts will reasonably be concerned about releasing prisoners because of public safety. But the MacDonald Law Office is experienced and accustomed to fighting for justice in court. We will reach a point where the prisons cannot adequately maintain the health of prisoners. We don’t know when circumstances of the pandemic will reach the tipping point that compels courts to release specific prisoners or categories of prisoners. Typically, humans don’t take actions until the situation is critical and many times this is too late. The risk to prisoner safety and the practical operation of the jail will need to outweigh the risk to public safety in specific instances. It is rational that the tipping point will be reached earlier for prisoners waiting for trial who are in the high-risk category based on age and pre-existing health conditions. The MacDonald Law Office position is that we have already reached that particular tipping point. It will be too late for a high-risk prisoner once a single infected person is identified with Coronavirus inside a jail. Once a prisoner or staff member is infected, this virus will spread rapidly in the prison setting. Once a prisoner is infected there is no treatment for COVID-19. The disease will run its course and high-risk individuals have a high probability of death. Pretrial prisoners in the high-risk category need to be released now. Certainly, it is urgent for prisoners in this category to contact the MacDonald Law Office now to file an emergency motion for pretrial release.

Prisoners who are already convicted of a crime and serving a sentence of confinement are in a more difficult position. The court’s tipping point for action will be higher and will be dependent on factors such as the severity of infections in the particular prison, the seriousness of the crime, the amount of time remaining on the sentence, and the prisoner’s risk category, and the practicality of other supervision such as home detention. The MacDonald Law Office can file a writ of habeas corpus seeking the release of prisoners if many of these factors weigh in favor of release and demonstrate that there is an overwhelming risk to the life of a specific prisoner. This extreme remedy is unlikely for DOC inmates at this stage of the pandemic (March 16, 2020) but this could change rapidly before this page is updated.

In conclusion, the MacDonald Law Office, LLC, is here to help get prisoners released from incarceration during the Coronavirus pandemic by filing an emergency motion for bond review, an emergency motion for release, or a writ of habeas corpus. Contact the MacDonald Law Office now at (410) 348-7809 for a free consultation by telephone and to be quoted a fee for this service. Together we can help to reduce the damage that is likely to be caused by the Coronavirus pandemic in our prisons.*

*THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT. The author is a well-informed lawyer, not a doctor, epidemiologists, medical professional, infectious disease expert or statistician. Much of the content of this page is outside the scope of the author’s expertise. The information contained herein is opinion only and should not be relied upon for the accuracy of the factual content outside of the legal field. The author cannot predict the future or promise that any of the predicted events foreseen in this article will actually happen. The MacDonald Law Office makes no guarantee that we can achieve the release of any prisoner or prevent harm to any prisoner, only that we will use our best efforts to achieve the release of prisoners subject to the confines of the law if retained for said purpose.

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