The ACLU of Alabama on Tuesday expressed concern that, while Mobile County Jail staff will be tested for COVID-19 following an outbreak of the virus there, inmates will not.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson on Tuesday announced that after 38 inmates and 30 staff tested positive for COVID-19 a decision was made to set up temporary testing outside the jail for workers, but that inmates would not be tested.
Cochran said he didn’t believe there was a need to test inmates, and that the department was following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on isolating inmates, and that if an inmate shows symptoms they’re isolated and treated as if they have COVID-19, according to Al.com.
“Limiting testing to certain staff and visitors over a temporary time period ignores the guidance from public health experts who have acknowledged that COVID-19 can still spread through asymptomatic individuals,” said Dillon Nettles, policy analyst at ACLU of Alabama, in a statement. “It is also shameful that Sheriff Cochrane is resisting testing any of the incarcerated population considering the increased risk of spread in jails because of crowding within the facilities.”
Nettles said that other states such as Tennessee are testing for coronavirus system-wide, and it is urgent that Alabama counties also extend testing to all jail populations.
“Because of how frequently people enter and exit from the broader community, these jails can quickly become vectors of COVID-19 unless the Sheriff, Mayor, and other officials are willing to act quickly to substantially reduce jail populations now,” Nettle said.
Mobile has taken steps to reduce its jail population from 1580 to 1100, Nettles noted, but said that it is not enough.
“Even with these reductions, Mobile still has one of the largest jail populations compared to its population size. Jefferson County has a per capita rate of 121.47 people in jail per 100,000 people, whereas Montgomery County’s rate is 176.61. By contrast, Mobile’s per capita rate is 266.21, which is more than doubled that of Jefferson County,” he said.
Nettles said that it is also concerning to see that, despite the need for more drastic steps, the county jail continues to house recent arrests for minor offense such as “marijuana possession, suspended driver’s licenses, and expired tags.”
“Sheriff Cochrane and Mayor Stimpson must stop these arrests and adjust their policies to protect the health and safety of the incarcerated people in their care, the staff who work there, and the broader community in Mobile,” Nettles said.
The ACLU of Alabama also recommends the use of summonses instead of custodial arrests for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, suspending the execution of any failure to appear or failure to pay warrants and technical violations and converting the bail schedule to an unsecured bail schedule for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.