By Tom Ward

Lately we are constantly surrounded by news about the widespread transmission of the novel coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. However, one of the most vulnerable populations is often forgotten – those incarcerated in jails and prisons around the United States.

Conditions in jails and prisons create the ideal environment for the transmission of contagious disease. Many of the same factors that have allowed the virus to quickly spread on cruise ships are also present in jails – crowded living spaces, shared ventilation, communal eating areas, and the near impossibility of separating sick people from well people. Further, researchers estimate that about 40% of incarcerated individuals suffer from the types of pre-existing conditions that have been found to present increased risks of serious complications including death in COVID-19 patients. Finally, the number of elderly inmates has increased steadily for the past 20 years and now accounts for about 12% of the incarcerated population.

It is not surprising that public health experts have called the threat of COVID-19 contagion in jails and prisons a “disaster waiting to happen.” Fortunately, many correctional officials across the country have begun to recognize the potential danger and are slowly adopting more aggressive policies aimed at releasing more people more quickly from jails and prisons.

If you have a loved one who is currently serving a sentence of incarceration or is in custody awaiting trial you should consult a qualified Colorado criminal defense attorney to discuss available options for petitioning a court for early release. Here is some helpful information on early release options for the friends and family of incarcerated individuals to consider:

Inmates serving federal sentences. Inmates serving federal sentences may have the ability to petition for early “compassionate release” under the provisions of the First Step Act. The recently passed coronavirus relief legislation, the CARES Act, gives the Attorney General the authority to make thousands of prisoners eligible to serve the remainder of their sentences in home confinement rather than prison.

Federal pre-trial detainees. Defendants who have been detained on pending charges are presumed innocent and should consider filing immediate emergency motions to reopen their detention hearings in light of the COVID-19 epidemic. In Colorado, federal judges have been reluctant to grant this relief so far, but this situation may change rapidly as the crisis evolves.

Colorado prison sentences. Defendants who have been sentenced to the Colorado Department of Corrections within the past 4 months, particularly non-violent offenders serving short sentences, should absolutely consider filing a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 35(b). For many of these defendants, a strong case can be made that a sentence to probation or community corrections is more appropriate under present circumstances. For others, the parole board holds most of the authority to grant early release for inmates with special needs.

Colorado pre-trial detainees. Virtually every inmate who is being held on pending charges with a high bond that they are unable to post should consider immediately filing a motion for a bond reduction. The greater the need to address the epidemic by reducing jail populations, the more likely that these motions will be granted.

About Tom Ward

Tom Ward is a Colorado criminal defense attorney and a partner at McDermott Stuart & Ward. He is a preeminent and award winning defense lawyer with decades of experience in Colorado criminal law. Email Tom directly for a consultation.

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