Alan Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz Reuters

Jay Shapiro refers to an article by Professor Alan Dershowitz on one of the lesser-known issues of the coronavirus outbreak - the impact on prisons.

Dershowitz argues that "it is inevitable that there will be outbreaks of coronavirus in prisons and jails, as, in the past, there have been outbreaks of other contagious diseases such as Legionnaires disease. Other institutions of confinement, such as nursing homes, have also experienced quickly spreading contagions".

In his opinion, "once an outbreak occurs, the options will be limited. It is unlikely that contagious inmates would be released; they would probably be quarantined in prison, which may mean solitary confinement. Nor will there be sufficient medical staff and equipment to treat them. In the event of an outbreak, guards and other staff are likely to refuse to come to work, thus raising the risk of violence among prisoners".

Dershowitz also calls for several steps: "Among these preventive steps should be the following: allowing elderly non-violent prisoners who are near the end of their sentences to be sent home; Those who still have considerable time to serve should be temporarily furloughed to home confinement, subject to increased punishment if they violate the strict conditions of the furlough; pre-trial and pre-appeal defendants should be allowed to remain at home unless they pose a threat of violence; Imprisonment of sentenced non-violent defendants should be deferred from month to month as we monitor the spread of the virus; summonses should replace arrests in most non-violent cases; fines and other non-custodial punishments should be more widely imposed as long as custody poses life threatening risks; other creative amelioratives should be considered".

Jay shares his insights on the story and explains whether prisoners should really be released, if possible.