September 12, 2020
What do you do when your client is sentenced to prison, but he has an underlying health condition that puts him at high risk of complications, and even death, if he is exposed to COVID-19? You ask the court to delay imposition of his sentence until the pandemic has passed.
Earlier this week, Massachusetts’ highest court heard oral argument on whether public health considerations justify postponing sentencings for at-risk prisoners until the pandemic subsides.
64-year-old Joseph Elibert was convicted in January of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and he was sentenced to four to six years in prison. In April, however, a trial judge postponed the date on which Elibert would have to report to prison, concluding that Elibert’s Type II diabetes “makes him at heightened risk of infection and/or injury or death.” Elibert was released on home confinement with a GPS monitor, but that stay was revoked on June 30 because no one at the facility at which he will be serving his sentence had tested positive in the most recent round of testing.
According to the Marshall Project, which has been tracking data on COVID-19 infections in state and federal prisons with the Associated Press, at least 102,494 prisoners nationwide have tested positive as of Aug 14, and 889 have died.
Meanwhile, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, conducted by researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, examined data from 29 correctional facilities in Massachusetts from April 5th through July 8th. The data revealed 1,032 confirmed COVID cases in prisoners (664) and staff (368) out of 14,987 prisoners in the commonwealth’s facilities—or a rate of 6.9% among inmates and staff.
The COVID-19 infection rate among prisoners was nearly three times higher than the population of Massachusetts and almost five times higher than the US population.