The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania filed an emergency petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday seeking the release of some in the Commonwealth’s county jails—what the petition argues is a necessary measure to allow jails space to follow CDC-recommended safe social distancing practices to prepare for COVID-19. The petition asks the Supreme Court to use its “Kings Bench” power to relieve some of the jails’ most vulnerable populations, as well as those awaiting trial or on short sentences for minor offenses.
“Leading public health officials have warned that unless courts act now, the ‘epicenter of the pandemic will be jails and prisons,'” the petition states. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has explained that correctional and detention facilities ‘present unique challenges for control of COVID-19 transmission among incarcerated persons, detention center staff, and visitors.’”
Other states have implemented similar measures, outlined in the ACLU’s petition, including New Jersey, which was the first March 23, and South Carolina, where its Supreme Court ordered that everyone held in jail on bond in a non-capital case be released, unless there exists an “unreasonable danger” or “extreme flight risk.” US Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to use home confinement for inmates currently held in jail or prison when appropriate in response to an increase of COVID-19 cases among prison populations on Thursday last week.
“We urge this Court, in the strongest terms, to join the growing chorus of courts who have decided to act in an effort to save lives. The time to act is now,” the petition said.
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