The Covid-19 pandemic upended every aspect of our daily lives such as from grocery stores to judicial procedures. The California judicial system is a unique adversarial that guarantees the right to confront. However, social distancing and protection of public health mean slow down the justice system in California. Our history reflects that the very first influenza outbreak was reported in prison present at San Quentin California, during the 1918. The influenza pandemic caused enhancement of the outbreak. (Stanley LL,1919). During Covid-19, prisons and jails are highly affected due to poor access to the health facilities, the unavoidable close contact, overcrowding, unsanitary facilities, poorly ventilated and absence of facilities for vulnerable people. This article deals with the effect of Covid-19 on the Court system and jails in California.
The effect of Covid-19 on justice system in California
Before the outbreak of Covid -19, someone who was arrested, unable to post bail or denied bail could expect to spend 5 to 200 days in jail waiting to appear in court. (Yang, March 2019). However, the average was around 35 days and this is quite a long duration to sit. Due to this pendency, most people lost their jobs, lost custody of their children and fail to repay their debts. The ongoing shutdown caused a slowdown of the justice system in California. (Schuppe, 17 March 2020), In most cities across California, courts are now postponing civil and criminal trials which caused the delay in the judicial system. It is crucial to mention here that both California and Florida have stopped accepting inmates owing to Covid-19 concerns. (Ceballos, 18 march 2020). Consequently, the slowdown of the justice system means people are unable to get a fair trial, as a result, there is an enhancement of legal, social and economic problems.
Pendency of the cases in California as courts overwhelmed by pandemic
Covid-19 has caused enhancement of the pendency of the cases from child support to insurance fraud throughout California. It is worth mentioning that only half as criminal and civil cases were resolved last summer as compared with pre-pandemic numbers. As per Deborah Chang, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, “Justice has not shut down but Justice has slowed down” (Lewis, 24.02.2021). The pendency of cases means many people across the state are facing an economic downturn, struggling to get justice, battling criminal and civil charges, fighting for their constitutional rights and a huge impact on their mental peace.
Infringement of the constitutional rights
A fair trial is one of the constitutional rights but pandemics caused delays of trials. Old people are badly affected as the pendency of trial proceedings affect their mental peace and cause death. (Hawks. L Woolhandler,2020) However, additional measures are much needed to reduce the jail and prisons population. Incarcerated people are at risk of death due to overcrowding, drug overdose, cardiovascular disease. Subsequently, in the criminal justice system, aggressive and proactive measures are required to reduce the catastrophe brewing in jails and prisons.
Covid-19 in prisons and jails in California
At present jails and prisons are overcrowded. Incarcerated people in the prisons are unable to follow Sops due to overcrowding. The elderly incarcerated people are more at risk as about 10% report cardiac issues, 15% report asthma and 1% with chronic issues. (Maruschak LM, March 24, 2020). Crowding and clinical vulnerability are the barriers to the implementation of proper SOP’s. Furthermore, when incarcerated people seek care, they often face long wait times for a visit. Some prosecutors focused on prosecutorial standards for reducing the length of stays and jail admissions. It is crucial to mention here that the district attorney in San Francisco has ordered the release of all incarcerated people in pretrial detention. (prison policy initiative, April 1, 2020).
Prisons and custodial settings for COVID-19
Covid-19 has increased risk factors for vulnerable people and incarcerated people with immunosuppression and chronic disease. As much, Covid-19 outbreaks, the prisons and custodial settings for public health are important for two reasons firstly, about 30 million incarcerated people release from prisons globally so they have direct interaction with the communities, which is one of the convenient ways for the spread of Covid-19. Secondly, the rapid spread of Covid-19 created more obstacles in the prisons. (Suprenant. C, 2020). However, additional measures are much needed to reduce the jail and prisons population. Incarcerated people are at risk of death due to overcrowding, drug overdose, cardiovascular disease. Subsequently in the criminal justice system, aggressive and proactive measures are required to reduce the catastrophe brewing in jails and prisons.
Covid-19 is challenging the California Legal modus operandi
The Honorable Tani G. Cantil- Sakauye, the Chief Justice of California and Chair of the judicial Council released a very crucial statewide order in march 2020 that superior courts were authorized to make necessary amendments to the proceedings due to the outbreak of covid-19. Consequently, the period for holding civil and criminal trials was extended to sixty days. However, courts have the power to conduct proceedings earlier upon a finding of good cause.(Baldwin, 2020)
- There is a need for proximity among the health and justice ministries to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
- Design and implement adequate systems for limiting exportation and importation of cases from one prison to another prison.
- There is a need to increase more jails and prisons which will reduce overcrowding in addition implementation of Sop’s will be more convenient.
- Vulnerable people are at more risk due to Covid-19 pandemic so there is need to establish short or alternatives modus operandi to resolve their disputes.
- There is a need for short, medium and long term solutions to addressing the current challenges of covid-19 in the justice system.
The delay in the justice system, enhancement of crimes and overcrowding in jails and prisons in California entwined with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Subsequently, quick trial proceedings, proper implementations of SOP’s, to give more preference to vulnerable incarcerated people and alternatives to incarceration for minor crimes are some of the ways to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.
Author: Sehrish Salamat (Attorney at Law and Founder at Justice for All)
Baldwin, J. M. (2020). Court Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Criminal Justice.
Ceballos, A. (18 march 2020). Florida Prisons Closed to New Inmates. News4JAX.
D, H. L. (2020). COVID-19 in prisons and jails in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine.
Initiative, P. P. (April 1,2020). Respinses to the Covid -19 pandemic. . https://www.prisonpolicy.org/virus/ virusresponse.html.
Lewis, R. (24.02.2021). Justice delayed: Courts owerwhelmed by pandemic . https://calmatters.org/justice/2021/01/justice-courts-overwhelmed-pandemic/.
LL, S. (1919 ). Influenza at San Quentin Prison, California. Public Health Rep.
Maruschak LM, B. M. (March 24,2020). Medical problems of the State and Federal prisoners and Jail inmates. https://www.bjs.gov/ content/pub/pdf/mpsfpji1112.pdf.
Schuppe, J. (17 March 2020). Coronavirus Upends U.S. Justice System: ‘The Ramifications Could Be Catastrophic.
Suprenant.C. (2020). COVID-19 and pretrial detention. Special Edit Policy Brief.
Yang, W. D. (March 2019). Proposals for Improving the U.S. Pretrial System. The Hamilton Project .