The Michigan Supreme Court says county jails should accelerate efforts to reduce the number of incarcerated people. And Chief Justice Bridget McCormack says the rapid spread of COVID-19 has made jails more dangerous for inmates, staff, and the sheriff’s deputies who guard them.
“They have to go to work every day and we’re putting them at risk by these dense populations where so many people cycle in and out of them,” she said.
McCormack says inmates constantly moving in and out of county jail cells pose a risk to other inmates, guards, and to the public at large.
A task force released a set of recommendations in January on ways to reduce the number of inmates held by counties. The motivation then was fairness and reducing costs as jail populations spiraled, says McCormack.
“Yeah, these would have been good ideas in non-pandemic times,” she said.
McCormack says it’s a coincidence that the task force report suggested ways to reduce jail overcrowding. The recommendations include finding alternatives to incarceration for failure to pay fines and other transgressions that don’t directly affect public safety.
“There’s an opportunity here because we happen to have in Michigan all of this data and these recommendations in order to address what right now is a public health emergency,” McCormack said.