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Coalition files suit asking Colorado Supreme Court to limit COVID-19 in jails

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Posted at 11:31 AM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 13:34:13-04

DENVER — A coalition that includes the Office of the State Public Defender, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel has filed two emergency petitions to the Colorado Supreme Court, asking for immediate action to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado jails.

The petitions asked the court to issue a directive that lower courts "are to do their part to safely reduce the number of people" who are incarcerated during the coronavirus crisis, according to a news release from the ACLU of Colorado.

“COVID-19 poses an imminent public health threat to people who are incarcerated, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the virus, where social distancing is impossible, and with facilities that do not have adequate medical care to meet these needs,” State Public Defender Megan Ring said in the news release. “Colorado’s judicial leadership must protect inmates, correctional staff and the public by providing guidance to all Colorado judges to assist in depopulating jails during this pandemic.”

The petitions are asking the court to issue guidance on safely limiting the number of people who are booked into jail, held in pretrial on bond and held on certain sentences.

The news release said COVID-19 has been confirmed in jails in Denver and Greeley, and it also referenced the coronavirus death this week of El Paso County Deputy Jeff Hopkins, who worked in intake and release at the jail there.

Gov. Jared Polis took executive action last week to help lower the jail population, but the petitions this week asked the Colorado Supreme Court to "translate this guidance into real action throughout all Colorado courts in every county."

Rebecca Wallace, ACLU of Colorado senior staff attorney, said some inmates in the Weld County jail are "sleeping and eating within feet of one another" and called the issue a "dire matter of public health that requires immediate action."