A Half-Million People Got COVID-19 in Prison. Are Officials Ready for the Next Pandemic?

Derrick Johnson had a makeshift mask. He had the spray bottle of bleach and extra soap that corrections officers provided. But he still spent every day crammed in a unit with 63 other men in a Florida prison, crowding into hallways on their way to meals and sleeping feet from one another at night.

As the coronavirus ravaged the Everglades Correctional Institution, Johnson was surrounded by the sounds of coughing and requests for Tylenol. And while he thought a lot of the prison’s policies were ineffective at protecting prisoners, he also wondered if that was the best the facility could do.

“Prison is not built to compete with a pandemic,” said Johnson, who was released in December. “The pandemic’s gonna win every time.”

For 15 months, The Marshall Project and The Associated Press tracked the spread of COVID-19 through prisons nationwide. We counted more than a half-million people living and working in prisons who got sick from the coronavirus. Prisons were forced to adapt to unusual and deadly circumstances. But now, as new cases are declining and facilities are loosening restrictions, there’s little evidence to suggest enough substantive changes have been made to handle future waves of infection.

With crowded conditions, notoriously substandard medical care and constantly shifting populations, prisons were ill-equipped to handle the highly contagious virus, which killed nearly 3,000 prisoners and staff.

There were
512,864 cases
of coronavirus reported among prisoners and staff through June 2021.

Sources: The Marshall Project and Associated Press weekly data collection from state and federal prison agencies.

Download our data.

Corrections systems responded with inconsistent policies, struggling to contain the virus amid understaffing and overcrowding. At its peak in mid-December, more than 25,000 prisoners tested positive in a single week.

But in recent months, infections behind bars nationwide have slowed to a few hundred new cases each week, and many prisons have eased what restrictions they had in place, including mask-wearing, visitors and other movement in and out, going back to business as usual.

It’s a critical moment, with new coronavirus cases low but the threat of infection looming as new variants spread around the world, said Dr. David Sears, an infectious-disease specialist and correctional health consultant.

“The medical community, prison leadership and society at large have learned so much about COVID in a short period of time,” Sears said. “We need to take these lessons and make sure that the things we’ve learned after a lot of real human suffering are not in vain.”

According to the data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press, about 3 in 10 people in state and federal prisons were infected with the virus. But correctional health experts widely agree that this number is an undercount.

“A great many of the people who ever had COVID, they were never tested,” said Dr. Homer Venters, a former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system who has inspected health conditions in prisons around the country over the last year. “In most prisons it ran through these places like wildfire. People were never tested.”

One man housed at a low-security federal prison compared the Bureau of Prisons’ public data to what he was seeing inside. At least half of his unit fell ill, he said, but the bureau’s data didn’t reflect that. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is still incarcerated and afraid of retribution.

“For the first year of the COVID, they never tested anybody in my institution unless they had a fever,” he said in a call from prison. “The easiest way to not have a positive at your institution is to not test anybody. … It’s like, hello, we’re dying from this shit. Can you test us?”

In the early days of the pandemic, testing within the Bureau of Prisons was limited, and staff at some prisons were told there was no need to test inmates and they should just assume everyone had the coronavirus. The Justice Department’s inspector general found that at some facilities, like FCC Oakdale in Louisiana, which emerged as an early hotspot, inmates who tested positive for the virus were left in their housing units for days without being isolated. The Bureau of Prisons said it follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that any inmate who is symptomatic or tests positive for the virus is placed in medical isolation until they recover.

Even when state and federal prisons did conduct tests, they still allowed prisoners who tested positive to come in contact with others.

Texas prison officials transferred more than 100 infected prisoners in East Texas to prisons just outside Houston in the first months of the pandemic. Officials said the move would bring the men closer to medical resources, but other prisoners worried it would just bring the virus closer. A few days after a group of the sick arrived to his unit, Jason Duncan fell ill.

“The unit nurse came around to take temperatures, mine was checked at 102,” he wrote in a letter at the time. A few hours after having his temperature taken, he fainted. “When I came to, my body was so hot I could not stand at all. I could not breathe, it felt like the life was being [sucked] out of me. I was also covered in sweat — all my clothes wet.”

Eventually, he ended up in a hospital and “hooked up to a breathing machine.” Finally, he got a COVID-19 test. “I was given no medication at all,” he wrote, adding that he was instead sent back to the prison and housed in the wing with the sick prisoners who’d been transferred in.

Scott Medlock, an attorney who represented prisoners in a class-action lawsuit accusing Texas of inadequately protecting them from the virus, said the failure to properly quarantine prisoners was key to the spread of COVID-19 at Texas’ Pack Unit. While staff would isolate those who tested positive for two weeks, they considered prisoners “recovered” when the quarantine period ended, regardless of whether prisoners were showing symptoms.

“They were moving people who had quote-unquote recovered, who were still having symptoms, sometimes into dormitories where there would be people who have not tested positive yet,” Medlock said.

But many prisons simply lack the space needed to adequately isolate sick prisoners. There are structural and logistical changes prisons could make, such as upgrading ventilation systems and creating surge capacity for staff and health care workers. But the most effective approach, Sears said, is to drastically reduce prison populations.

“When you’re filled to the max and you have two people in an 8-by-10 cell right next to two more people in an 8-by-10 cell and on and on, it’s impossible to create any form of physical distancing,” Sears said. “We have to get people out of prisons so we have that space.”

While many jails emptied out during the pandemic and prison populations declined, the criminal justice system has not fundamentally changed. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, who leads the COVID Prison Project, said she hasn’t seen the systemic change needed to address the next pandemic.

“What we’re seeing over the past couple weeks and months is a real return to status quo, which makes me worry that prisons and jails didn’t learn much at all,” Brinkley-Rubinstein said. “I see incarcerated populations returning to what they were before.”

Photographs from inside a federal prison show how close people slept during the pandemic last year. The images have been altered to obscure the identity of people in the prison.

The Marshall Project

Employee shortages plague many prisons. The federal system is at critically low levels and has been forced to make teachers and others watch prisoners. The Nebraska prison system recently declared a staffing emergency at a fourth facility, and Texas prisons are struggling with more than 5,000 correctional officer vacancies and the lowest staffing levels in recent memory.

In Pennsylvania, transfers and insufficient quarantine policies contributed to spreading the virus between prison facilities, said John Eckenrode, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association. Once there were active cases throughout the state’s prisons, including among staff, the department became lax with quarantining and actively contact-tracing staff after someone tested positive.

A few months into the pandemic, Eckenrode believes, a lot of supervisors were tired of quarantining officers and calling in overtime.

“There were definitely officers who went weeks without a day off and sometimes working all 16-hour shifts,” he said. “It takes a toll on you, your home life, your time with family, your mental and physical exhaustion.”

The Pennsylvania Prison Society, a group that advocates for humane prison and jail conditions, found at one point during the pandemic 1 in 6 corrections officers was out sick or in quarantine. Prisoners contacted the society to say their medical request slips were piling up.

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“Because so many staff members were out sick during COVID-19, what we found was people had an even harder time getting access to medical care,” said Anton Andrew, the society’s education and advocacy fellow.

The strain of understaffing and working in a high-risk environment has led to corrections staff leaving their jobs, Venters said. These staffing shortages will have long-term consequences, especially as prison populations rise.

“Understaffing means people don’t get to their health care appointments and certainly don’t go outside,” Venters said. “It’s unlikely when they have an emergency that anybody is going to see it or respond to it.”

Like life on the outside, the immediate risk to prisoners in many states has largely receded. Twenty states have administered at least one dose of the vaccine to two-thirds of their prison population, and new cases in prisons nationwide have stayed below 500 a week for more than a month. Prisoners who spent more than a year without family visits, educational programs and outdoor recreation are eager to regain more social interaction and activity. Despite these promising signs, however, doctors and advocates for the incarcerated fear that prisons are letting their guard down too quickly.

New variants of the coronavirus are more contagious, which Sears said may call for higher vaccine rates to bring about herd immunity. Maryland, Michigan and Colorado found variants within their prisons earlier this year, though case numbers remained low.

In Hawaii, one of the few states where cases have risen in prisons in recent weeks, state authorities attribute the outbreak to overcrowding and transfers into its facilities. Unlike most states, Hawaii’s correctional system houses both sentenced prisoners and people awaiting trial, a more transient population with lower vaccination levels.

“Our jails have all been burdened by extreme overcrowding for decades, and now added to that are the unique challenges posed by the COVID pandemic,” Toni Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, said in an email.

While vaccine acceptance among prisoners has been higher than anticipated, most systems have seen staff vaccination rates lagging behind.

“We know that COVID doesn’t just spring up from the ground within a prison. COVID is introduced by people coming into and out of a prison,” Sears said. “Ninety-nine percent of that movement is staff … so creating that ring of protection around a prison with higher staff vaccination rates is vital.”

In Colorado, where 55% of corrections workers are fully vaccinated, unvaccinated staff are tested daily with rapid tests, said Brandalynn Anderson, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated staff take weekly PCR tests.

Not all prisons take as thorough of an approach. In some states, such as Wisconsin and South Carolina, staff are tested every two weeks. Others only mandate testing when employees are suspected to have been exposed to the virus.

As prison coronavirus cases have slowed, so, too, has the release of data from state and federal agencies. Michele Deitch, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has researched prison data transparency during the pandemic, said this is a troubling sign that prisons are prematurely moving beyond the pandemic.

“There’s a sense that COVID is over, that the pandemic is behind us, and that is just not the case,” Deitch said. “We have to remember that prisons and jails were hit so much harder than the outside communities were, and in many jurisdictions, they were late to provide vaccinations to incarcerated people.”

Katie Park

is a developer and data journalist who creates data visualizations and digital features at The Marshall Project. Her work has been recognized by the Society for News Design, the Society of Professional Journalists, Malofiej Infographic Awards and the White House News Photographers Association. She previously worked at NPR and The Washington Post.

Keri Blakinger

is a staff writer whose work focuses on prisons and jails. She writes the column “Inside Out” with NBC News, and her work has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the organization’s first formerly incarcerated reporter.

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June 30, 2021 at 06:03AM

Are Virtual Courtrooms Here to Stay?

When the pandemic forced attorneys to present their cases remotely, courtroom members had little time to adapt in-person practices to online platforms. Some changes were glaring, like the court’s inability to ‘all rise’ remotely.

Others were smaller but still consequential: sitting behind separate screens, clients and attorneys could no longer whisper to one another — a loss that Howard ‘Rex’ Dimmig, the public defender for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Florida, said conveys the disadvantages of virtual court proceedings.

“When they’re talking on a virtual platform where dozens of people are listening, or if they have to say, ‘Wait a minute, I need to take a break to talk confidentially with my attorney,’ they’re not inclined to do that,” said Dimmig, who serves as the president of the Florida Public Defender Association.

“The quality of communication is impacted.”

Fifteen months have passed since Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady issued an administrative order temporarily suspending grand jury proceedings, jury selection proceedings, and criminal and civil jury trials, later instructing judges to facilitate court proceedings “with the use of technology.”

Across the country, judges and attorneys, plaintiffs and defendants suddenly found themselves scrambling to adapt to platforms designed for corporate meetings and college classes.

As in-person proceedings begin to resume, lawyers are reflecting on the long-term viability of virtual proceedings. While some remain skeptical that technology can reproduce the right to fairness legal cases require, others cite the benefits: convenient appearances, cheaper costs and, in some cases, increased accessibility.

Pandemic, Pile-up and Virtual Proceedings 

Victor Plantinga, a criminal defense attorney who primarily litigates in the federal courts in Wisconsin and Illinois, said remote proceedings have saved money and time. Prior to the pandemic, presenting a motion for civil cases in the Northern District of Illinois, for instance, required Plantinga commute from Miluakee to northern Illinois for a “three minute” appearance — an endeavor virtual proceedings have eliminated, he said.

“This is on the taxpayer dime. It was a great expense to have someone who can bill for travel,”  Plantinga said.

“So, in some ways, I think COVID has made us rethink how we’re going to do that going forward. I can’t speak for the judges, but it certainly makes sense to keep some of those remote appearances.”

Remote appearances have happened against the backdrop of a massive case backlog. Most courts postponed jury trials, leading to a case buildup with years-long consequences.

In Texas, a pandemic-induced backlog could last until 2026, with David Slayton, the Administrative Director of the Texas Office of Court Administration, estimating that the number of jury trials plunged in the state from 168 each week to four.

Texas courts have conducted two million remote hearings since March 2020, he said, lessening the backlog of civil and family cases. With attendance up among parties and prospective jurors, judges are seeing fewer default judgements and more racially diverse juries, he added.

“Remote technology and remote appearances remove barriers to court participation that we didn’t really even know existed prior to the pandemic,” Slayton said.

But as delayed criminal cases accumulate, the backlog carries the most consequences for criminal defendants, many of whom are “sitting in local jails where there’s no programming available, basically under the worst conditions” for up to two years before their trials begin, Plantinga said.

As jury trials resume, he expects courts will prioritize criminal trials (“which they should,” he added), tipping the scales and setting civil cases behind.

“There’s so many of those trials that are stacked like cordwood,” he said.

The (In)accessibility of Online Court

Like most spheres that have shifted online, the judicial system hasn’t been spared from hiccups, video-call accidents and viral moments. After he was unable to remove a kitten filter from his profile during a virtual hearing, a Texas lawyer was forced to clarify to a judge, “I’m not a cat” in a clip that animated Twitter.

In one of the limited juror selection processes Texas courts conducted, prospective jurors in Harris County were caught applying makeup, playing video games, driving, sleeping and vaping on Zoom.

Dimmig said he’s seen people napping during virtual proceedings, adding that many clients have appeared “in, to put it politely, very informal ways.” Informality isn’t the only issue: technological inaccessibility has hampered proceedings for many of Dimmig’s clients, particularly those who are incarcerated or living in rural areas.

When clients can’t access two devices — one to connect to court proceedings and another to communicate with attorneys — attorney-client confidentiality suffers, he said.

Slayton cited the flipside: courts have aimed for accessibility by inviting people to courtroom kiosks designed for remote appearances and distributing iPads equipped with cell service — efforts he hopes will stick. Technology, he said, has enabled people to appear in court without scrambling for childcare, transportation or time off work.

“If you’re a long haul trucker and you need to appear in court today, if your normal route would have you in Kentucky today — obviously that’s not possible in a normal in-person appearance,” Slayton said. “But with remote appearances, you pull over on the side of the road and you log in and you’re in court.”

Although Plantinga said some court appearances should remain online, he said he prefers in-person proceedings for certain circumstances, like sentencing. In the pandemic’s early months, defendants could choose to attend sentencing hearings remotely or delay the date indefinitely. Most defendants chose virtual hearings.

But Plantinga said he doubts defendants had a genuine choice. “Is it really a free choice when you know the alternative is a big unknown?” he asked.

He said he suspects in-person sentencings are more advantageous for defendants.

“I like in person sentencings because I think it humanizes the person a lot more than seeing some disembodied head on the screen,” he added.

Are Face-to-Face Hearings History? 

As courtrooms and law firms reopen, it’s likely that courts will embrace a mix of in-person and online proceedings, though most attorneys doubt that courts will ever adopt virtual jury trials for criminal cases. In a February article for the American Bar Association, New York attorney Phillip C. Hamilton wrote that virtual jury trials introduce a host of constitutional issues.

“American courtrooms, by their very nature, are physically constructed from the blueprint of the Sixth Amendment,” Hamilton wrote. “Without question, it is highly doubtful that the framers ever envisioned government witnesses testifying via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.”

With respect to liberty interests, parties deserve an effective defense, said Adam Plotkin, the Legislative Liaison for the Wisconsin State Public Defender. “But to provide an effective defense you need to see those people in person.”

Plotkin added that if a court issues a sequestration order barring a witness from viewing the proceedings, it’s nearly impossible to ensure that witness doesn’t access the broadcast. It’s also difficult to discern if a witness, testifying remotely, is “being coached or prompted or even threatened,” he said.

Slayton said officials should consider adopting virtual jury selection, citing its high attendance rates during the pandemic. Dimmig, though, said the inevitable introduction of technology into the courtroom should be handled with caution.

“A scheduling matter can probably be handled remotely, but anything that addresses fundamental rights — that, in my opinion, has got to stay in person, so that there can be effective justice administered,” he said.

“I do think we’re going to see an expansion in the use of technology, but expanding technology cannot be the goal. Improving access to the courts while ensuring fundamental due process has got to be the goal.”

Eva Herscowitz is a TCR justice reporting intern. She welcomes comments from readers.

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June 28, 2021 at 07:42AM

Jury Trial Delays Lead to Longer Lock Ups

Because the pandemic paused jury trials, many defendants will have spent more time jailed pretrial than incarcerated for their sentence, The Washington Post reports. As courts delayed jury trials due to COVID-19, many people accused of violent crimes were released from jail on pending cases. But others remained behind bars for more time than their eventual sentence, and the loosening of health restrictions means courts must now decide how to prioritize cases.

Although prison populations declined during the pandemic’s early days, they crept back up because fewer prisoners have been released, said Prof. Jenny E. Carroll of the University of Alabama School of Law. Some 582 people were detained awaiting trial in D.C. Superior Court on felony charges as of mid-June. Most are accused of violent crimes, though over 100 are being held on drug or gun possession charges. Chief Judge Anita M. Josey-Herring said the court will prioritize scheduling trials for people accused of lesser offenses. D.C. federal court is also experiencing a backlog driven by the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. About four dozen of those defendants are in custody, and some of their attorneys have said they will spend more time in jail before trial than they will receive if convicted and sentenced. Of these cases, U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols said “there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the system if the pleas don’t start to move.”

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June 28, 2021 at 09:56AM

Prisoners Sent Home Due to COVID Face Possible Return

Some 4,000 federal offenders could soon return to prison — not because they violated the terms of their home confinement, but because the U.S. appears to be moving past the worst of the pandemic, reports the New York Times. At the end of the Trump administration, the Justice Department issued a memo saying inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison. Some lawmakers and criminal justice advocates are urging President Joe Biden to revoke the rule and use his executive power to keep them on home confinement or commute their sentences entirely, arguing that the practice costs less and exemplifies a better form of justice. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, said in a statement that the president was “committed to reducing incarceration and helping people re-enter society,” but he referred questions about the future of those in home confinement to the Justice Department.

The United States spent an average of $37,500 to keep federal inmates imprisoned during the 2018 fiscal year. Home confinement costs around $13,000 a year, with expenses including monitoring equipment and paying private contractors to handle supervision, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report. The vast majority of the 24,000 federal prisoners who were released to home confinement because of the coronavirus crisis followed the rules. Inmates are typically allowed to serve the final six months, or 10 percent, of their sentence on home confinement. Larry Cosme, the national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents probation officials, cautioned against changing those requirements without a proper review and said the releases put a strain on those responsible for monitoring the inmates.

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June 28, 2021 at 11:30AM

Judge pursues criminal charges against 3 US marshals after underling won’t disclose COVID-19 vaccination status

A federal judge in South Dakota has said three supervisory U.S. marshals will face criminal charges after an underling refused to disclose her COVID-19 vaccination status and left the courthouse with three defendants scheduled for court hearings.

U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann of the District of South Dakota announced criminal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and contempt of court against the three marshals after they appeared at a hearing Monday on civil contempt charges, report the Aberdeen News, the Associated Press, Forum News Service and the Washington Post.

Kornmann said he will appoint a prosecutor if the U.S. attorney declines to prosecute.

Kornmann had told federal officials in March that he expected people working in his courtroom to disclose whether they had been vaccinated.

In a May 19 order to show cause, Kornmann said the U.S. Marshals Service sent a deputy U.S. marshal to his court knowing that she wouldn’t answer the vaccination question in what may have been an “in your face” gesture. Kornmann said he has to know vaccination status because he is 83 years old and at higher risk, as is an employee with serious lung and heart problems.

“Who is running the courts, judges or bureaucrats who themselves are sitting in their offices in the District of Columbia, totally not exposed to COVID problems in their workplaces?” he wrote.

One of the supervisors charged, South Dakota U.S. Marshal Daniel Mosteller, informed Kornmann in April that U.S. marshals wouldn’t be disclosing their vaccination status to the court. Only half of the marshals in South Dakota had been vaccinated by last month, according to a court filing cited by Forum News Service.

The other marshals charged are John Kilgallon, chief of staff for the U.S. Marshals Service; and Stephen Houghtaling, chief deputy U.S. marshal for South Dakota.

The dispute began May 10 when a deputy U.S. marshal brought a defendant into the courtroom but refused to disclose whether she had been vaccinated. She was asked to leave the courtroom and a vaccinated marshal was found to take her place. Later, she left the courthouse on orders from her supervisors with other defendants awaiting hearings.

During the hearing Monday, Kornmann said U.S. marshals must obey district court orders, and their actions were “outrageous.”

Removing the defendants was tantamount to a kidnapping or holding the defendants hostage, the judge said, and nothing like this has ever happened in the United States.

Kornmann said the case could be resolved by an apology and the payment of a $5,000 fine by each U.S. marshal defendant, but they declined.

The defendants wore masks during the hearing, but Kornmann and his staff did not, according to Forum News Service.

Kornmann is a nominee of former President Bill Clinton.

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June 15, 2021 at 11:36AM

Half of Pandemic Unemployment Funds Potentially Stolen Through Fraud

Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been providing over the last year, with potentially $400 billion winding up in the hands of fraudsters and foreign crime syndicates, reports Axios. Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that America has lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent claims. As much as 50 percent of all unemployment monies might have been stolen. It’s been estimated that at least 70 percent of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere. Much of the rest of the money was stolen by street gangs domestically, who have made up a greater share of the fraudsters in recent months.

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June 10, 2021 at 11:13AM

Judge Rips ‘Reprehensible’ Comparison Between Nazi Experiments and Hospital COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit over hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement, and she did it in more than one sense of the word. The lawsuit from 117 employees of hospitals in Houston, Texas had sued because they did not want to be required to take these new vaccines, but in making this argument, the complaint compared the requirement to experiments under Nazi Germany. Judge Lynn N. Hughes of the Southern District of Texas scoffed.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” she wrote in an order dated Saturday. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that cause pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”

The complaint under lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges claimed the hospital was making employees “human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.” Plaintiffs maintained they were being forced to subject themselves to experimentation as a condition for keeping their jobs. The comparison with Nazi Germany did indeed appear in the lawsuit, highlighting the Nuremberg Code of 1947 and the history behind it.

“Here, Defendants fail to inform its employees that they are taking part in a medical experiment and that their consent is required for this under the Nuremberg Code,” read the complaint. “This, as a matter of fact, is a gene modification medical experiment on human beings, performed without informed consent. It is a severe and blatant violation of the Nuremberg Code and the public policy of the state of Texas.”

As a legal matter, Hughes disregarded this argument, saying that the Nuremberg Code did not apply because Methodist is a private employer, not a government. She also did not give weight to concerns about the vaccines’ safety.

“Bridges dedicates the bulk of her pleadings to arguing that the currently-available COVID-19 vaccines are experimental and dangerous,” she wrote. “This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant.”

Texas law only protects employees from getting fired for refusing to commit crimes, she wrote.

“She is refusing the accept inoculation that, in the hospital’s judgment, will make it safer for their workers and the patients in Methodist’s care,” the judge wrote.

The plaintiff attorney promised an appeal. From Jared Woodfill in an email to Law&Crime:

This is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment. Employment should not be conditioned upon whether you will agree to serve as a human guinea pig. We will be appealing this case to the United States Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court if necessary. Additionally, we will be seeking a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in a similar case. All of my clients continue to be committed to fighting this unjust policy. What is shocking is that many of my clients were on the front line treating Covid positive patients at Texas Methodist Hospital during the heighth of the pandemic. As a result, many of them contracted COVID-19. As a thank you for their service and sacrifice, Methodist Hospital awards them a pink slip and sentences them to bankruptcy. If this ruling is allowed to stand, employers across the country will be able to force their employees to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment. This legal battle has only just begun. Ultimately, I believe Methodist Hospital will be held accountable for their conduct. Sometimes the wheels of justice move slower than we like.

You can read the order below:

[Screengrab via KPRC]

The post Judge Rips ‘Reprehensible’ Comparison Between Nazi Experiments and Hospital COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement first appeared on Law & Crime.

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June 13, 2021 at 08:20PM

FAMM urges AG Garland to prevent those on home confinement during pandemic from being returning to federal prison

In various prior posts (some linked below), I have covered the Office of Legal Counsel memo released at the very end of the Trump Administration which interprets federal law to require that certain persons transferred from federal prison to home confinement pursuant to the CARES Act be returned to federal prison when the pandemic ends.  The folks at FAMM have done a great job spotlighting the problems this OLC memo creates, and Kevin Ring at FAMM today sent this new extended letter to Attorney General Garland urging him to address these matters “as quickly as possible.”  Here are excerpts from the letter:

Dozens of members of Congress who voted for the CARES Act have written to you, clarifying that they did not intend people on home confinement to return to prison.  The BOP did not tell people who were transferred to home confinement that they might have to return. Corrections officers were unaware of the possibility….

There is no public safety reason to require anyone abiding by the terms of their transfer to be reincarcerated.  The BOP screened each one of the approximately 4,000 people currently on home confinement using strict criteria established by Attorney General William Barr.  Those deemed to pose no danger to the community now wear ankle monitors and are subject to rigorous surveillance.  Some have been home for a full year. Only a vanishingly small percentage have violated the terms of their confinement, according to the BOP….

Attorney General Garland, we urge you to end now the needless suffering and extreme stress these families are experiencing.  You can do so in a number of ways.

First, you have the authority to rescind or overrule the OLC memo.  We, along with a bipartisan group of members of Congress and advocacy organizations, have urged and continue to urge you to do so.

If you feel constrained to follow the OLC’s opinion, you can and should recommend to the president that he act now to grant clemency to anyone who is serving CARES Act home confinement and has complied with the rules of their supervision.  The Department then should do everything it can to support clemency petitions, including ensuring the speedy review and transfer of cases to the president.  The president has expressed a desire to use his clemency authority more robustly.  Commuting the sentences of these extraordinarily low-risk people would be a smart and easy start.

The Department could use its existing authority to keep people home by transferring those eligible for the Elderly Offender Home Detention Program.  It also could use its authority to seek compassionate release for those on CARES Act home confinement, especially those who have years left on their sentences.  At a minimum, the Department should direct that U.S. Attorneys not oppose compassionate release motions brought by people in those circumstances.

In all cases, the Department should direct the BOP to use its furlough authority to prevent anyone whose status is not resolved before the end of the emergency period from having to return to prison.  This approach also would be useful for those people nearing the end of their sentences and for whom the measures discussed above are not necessary because they will shortly be eligible for transfer under 18 U.S.C. § 3624(c).

Some prior recent related posts:

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June 7, 2021 at 05:48PM

Shouting ‘No Vaccine,’ Woman Nearly Ran Over Seven People at COVID-19 Vaccination Site

Teary mugshot of Virginia Christine Lewis Brown released by the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.

Nearly plowing over seven people, a Tennessee woman intentionally sped her car through a COVID-19 vaccination site, shouting “No vaccine!” as workers there scrambled to get out of her SUV’s way, a county sheriff announced on Thursday.

First reported by the Washington Post, the incident resulted in seven charges of felony reckless endangerment against 35-year-old Virginia Christine Lewis Brown.

The sheriff says the caper occurred on Monday morning at Tennessee’s Blount County Health Department vaccine site at Foothills Mall, but authorities announced the charges on Thursday. The sheriff’s office says two deputies working at the site witnessed Brown speed through the vaccine tent in a Chrysler Pacifica.

Gunning for the tent at a “high rate of speed,” the SUV did not stop at the check-in area—but sped through and exited it, ultimately leaving out of the parking lot, authorities say.

“One of the deputies followed the vehicle out of the parking lot and conducted a traffic stop on Morganton Road,” the sheriff’s office narrated on Facebook. “Ms. Brown told the deputy that she drove through the site to protest the vaccine. Ms. Brown was arrested and taken to the Blount County Correctional Facility without incident.”

The Post reports that each count carries a possible prison sentence of one to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Authorities say that Brown was released on a $21,000 bond pending a hearing in Blount County General Sessions Court on the morning of June 7, a week from Monday.

“While traveling to the jail, Ms. Brown made several statements about wanting to protest the vaccine,” the deputy wrote in an incident report, according to the Daily Times, a local outlet for Blount County. “Ms. Brown stated she was driving through the course and, once she got to the tent, she told the personnel there working she was not there for the vaccine.”

Under Tennessee law, “reckless endangerment” is defined as “conduct that places or may place another person in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”  The crime is a Class A Misdemeanor or, if a deadly weapon is used, a Class E Felony.

As the Post noted, less dangerous anti-vaccination demonstrations have cropped up nationwide, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines against COVID-19 safe and effective.

[Mugshot via the Blount County Sheriff’s office]

The post Shouting ‘No Vaccine,’ Tennessee Woman Nearly Ran Over Seven People at COVID-19 Vaccination Site: Sheriff first appeared on Law & Crime.

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May 27, 2021 at 06:36PM