Home » NEWS » Attorney: Mississippi jails not prepared for virus pandemic

Attorney: Mississippi jails not prepared for virus pandemic

Mississippi jails are not prepared to handle a coronavirus outbreak, and judges should consider releasing people who are waiting for trial on nonviolent crimes but cannot afford to post bail, a human rights attorney said.

Cliff Johnson is director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi law school. The center tracks jail and prison conditions, and it released new figuresWednesday showing a continued pattern of thousands of people remaining in Mississippi jails for months because they cannot afford to post bail.

Mississippi reported 34 confirmed cases of the coronavirusas of Wednesday, though there was no indication that any were among people in jails.

Johnson said jails could become more dangerous as the new virus spreads.

“Mississippi sheriffs will be the first to tell you that they don’t have the expertise or the resources to deal with a pandemic like COVID-19,” Johnson said Wednesday.

In some jails, inmates sleep in “open bay” settings, with multiple beds in a single large room.

For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.

At the urging of the MacArthur Center, the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2017 ordered sheriffs to start providing information about people in county jails and how long they have been there. The center collected information from April 2018 and November 2018.

The figures released Wednesday are from May 2019, when about 2,500 people had been jailed longer than 90 days, and more than 575 had been jailed more than a year awaiting trial. Those are similar to the figures from November 2018.

“We know the vast majority are there because they can’t pay bail,” Johnson said.

People who can afford to post bail are released from jail while waiting for a grand jury to consider whether to indict them on criminal charges. Johnson said: “Poor people sit in jail.”


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About Associated Press