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A Dangerous Limbo: Probation and Parole in the Time of COVID-19

R&R contributed to this story in the Marshall Project about people sitting sitting in jails awaiting hearings for violations of parole and probation supervision, putting them at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. From the article:

“When people are accused of violating their probation or parole, they often have to wait behind bars for a series of hearings and procedural hurdles to determine if they are guilty and what the consequences will be. Think of a criminal trial, but less formal and with fewer constitutional protections. Even “one day in custody can totally disrupt someone’s life to the point of almost no return,” says Michael Nail, Georgia’s commissioner of community supervision. Now, coronavirus can make custody downright dangerous.

In California, an April 6 emergency court rule meant to keep people out of jail during the pandemic set bail automatically at $0 for a wide range of crimes. The rule came two weeks too late for Nolan Myers, who was sent to the Southwest Detention Center in Riverside County, California, in late March after he missed an appointment with his probation officer. His next step would have been to go before a judge, but courthouses are closed.

As of last week Myers was one of 141 people awaiting a violation hearing in the Riverside County jails, according to Lionel Murphy, a spokesman for the sheriff. With a coronavirus outbreak tearing through the jail, “his life is in danger over a technical violation,” his girlfriend, Samantha Smart, wrote to The Marshall Project in an email. (Myers finally went home on Friday after a prosecutor and his attorney reached an agreement, according to Marita Ford, a spokesperson for the court.*)” BETH SCHWARTZAPFEL in The Marshall Project

*Root & Rebound was contacted by Samantha regarding Nolan’s incarceration in Riverside County Jail on a technical violation (i.e., the alleged offense was not a crime in itself – it was solely a violation of his probation conditions) – in this case, he had missed a check in with his probation officer. Samantha was concerned about his safety because the jail was not implementing proper protocols to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19. (There had already been one COVID-19 death in Riverside County Jail and advocates are suing Riverside County in federal court around the lack of physical distancing and hygiene products in the jail.)

When Samantha contacted R&R, Nolan had been in jail for a month without seeing a judge and there was no court date pending because of the Riverside Superior Court’s modified calendar. R&R reached out to the probation department, public defender’s office, the attorneys leading the federal litigation, and elected officials on Nolan’s behalf to advocate for his release. We also elevated his situation to the reporter Beth Schwartzapfel at the Marshall Project, who was able to speak with the Sheriff’s Department and the Court about Nolan.

Nolan was ultimately released on 5/1/2020. However, his was an individual release – there are many others who are similarly situated – in custody for a non-serious, non-violent technical violation – who still remain at high risk of contracting COVID-19 in Riverside County Jail.

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