New York is continuing its fight against the coronavirus pandemic with an extended shelter-in-place order to protect residents and curb the spread of COVID-19. The coronavirus has upended life as we know it and affected the criminal justice system at both the state and federal levels.
Unfortunately, New York City’s jail populations remain vulnerable to the virus due to crowded, unsafe conditions and lack of access to necessary cleaning supplies. Most correctional facilities do not have the staff or equipment to handle serious infections.
According to the Legal Aid Society, Rikers Island has an infection rate of more than 8 percent compared to just over 1 percent overall in the state. The New York City Department of Corrections reported that 343 inmates and 686 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 16.
The criminal justice system currently has pending applications for the release of inmates who may face a high risk of complications or death due to COVID-19. While more than 1,500 inmates have been freed from city jails due to the virus, officials have been criticized for a lack of timely action toward individuals who qualify for early release.
Various prison reform organizations like the Emergency Release Fund are taking steps to raise bail to release pre-trial inmates from jails. The group has posted bail for 80 inmates so far and is working to free others.
Defendants who have hired private defense lawyers are asking for help, too. There is a general sense that courts are likely to grant more bail motions due to COVID-19, particularly for nonviolent criminal cases. For inmates who are still awaiting sentencing, a lawyer may be able to file a renewed bail motion because of the coronavirus crisis.
Brill Legal Group is continuing keep a close watch on the latest developments amid the coronavirus outbreak and fighting for the rights of our clients. Anyone who is currently incarcerated in New York City should seek the help of a defense lawyer right away, especially elderly individuals or those who have underlying health conditions that may make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Having an experienced defense attorney petitioning for an inmate’s release and arguing bail can make all the difference.