COVID-19’s Impact on Nevada’s Inmate Population

The current COVID-19 crisis is at the forefront of many Nevada citizens’ minds as individuals practice social distancing, wearing safety gear, and working remotely.  One demographic that might be overlooked at this time are individuals who are currently incarcerated. As this public health crisis has developed, it quickly became clear to those involved in the prison systems in Nevada that measures desperately needed to be taken to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus in these populations. While detention centers, jails and prisons have implemented precautions including health screenings, tracking of symptoms, increased sanitation measures and isolation rooms, inmates continue to test positive for COVID-19.

This is a result of jails and prisons generally housing a large number of inmates (most of which share close quarters living spaces) and limited medical staff. However, all incarcerated individuals and detention center employees still maintain a right to life and adequate medical care. As a result, prisons across Nevada have begun to implement a variety of progressive changes to release non-violent inmates with underlying health conditions in order to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.”

This does not mean that all Nevada jails and prisons are opening their doors for anyone to leave as they please, but instead demonstrates that there is a recognized responsibility on behalf of law makers and law enforcement within the criminal justice system to protect the employees and inmates in their custody. During the onset of this crisis, numerous Nevada criminal defense attorneys began to make appeals to local government officials and the Courts on behalf of the rights of inmates in detention centers.

Recently, Nevada attorneys have argued in a petition filed with the Nevada Supreme Court that Nevada’s high incarceration rates could prove “catastrophic” should a large-scale outbreak occur in jails, prisons and detention centers without preventative actions being taken. Furthermore, they state all people in and surrounding detention centers have the right to be protected by those in charge of their daily tasks. As the petition explains, “Nevada’s incarcerated persons have a right to prison conditions that do not needlessly expose them to COVID-19”.

This petition called for more sanitary precautions to be taken in prisons in addition to lessening the high population rates of these prisons, as the incarcerated and those employed in prisons alike have the right to protect their own health. Beyond the health of those directly in and around prisons, an outbreak in prisons would also prove to be detrimental to their surrounding communities, as employees and released prisoners could unknowingly spread the virus outside of these detention centers.

The Center for Disease Control (commonly referred to as “CDC”) informed the public that those who are at a higher risk to contract COVID-19 are individuals 65 years and older and people of all ages with underlying medical conditions.  Upon learning this information, the necessary action thus became clear to all: inmate depopulation must take place to protect those at risk.

In Las Vegas, the sheriff has implemented an Order signed by the Chief District Court Judge and Clark County has begun releasing inmates who are non-violent offenders, individuals who are at risk due to pre-existing medical conditions, offenders who have finished over 75% of their sentence, and those being held on technical sentences (parole violations, for example).  Individuals being held for DUI violations, domestic violence or violent offenses are not being considered for these early releases. Overall, inmate population in Clark County has decreased by a notable 30 percent since March given these precautions. Today, inmates and prison employees are being issued face masks in an effort to continue to combat an outbreak, separate of these release measures being implemented.

At the law firm of Hofland & Tomsheck, we take pride in staying ahead of legal developments to provide the best possible conditions for our clients.  If you, or someone you know, is currently incarcerated and believes they are high-risk as outlined by the CDC standards, call our office today to set up a free consultation with experienced Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney, Josh Tomsheck.  Mr. Tomsheck is a Nationally Board-Certified Criminal Defense Attorney who has been recognized by the Nevada State Bar as a Specialist in Criminal Trial Law.  We look forward to helping you put these unfortunate situations behind you and helping you get back to your life.

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