An outbreak of coronavirus in a Colorado prison facility has led to one of the largest isolated total positive cases in the state. According to CPR news, Sterling Correctional Facility is now testing all inmates after 138 people came back positive – and more are still awaiting results.
Coronavirus has changed the everyday lives of people in so many ways, and especially those inside the criminal justice system. In response to the contagion, a primary example of how courts and prisons are adjusting their protocol is the handling of current inmates.
The situation at Sterling Correctional Facility showcases just how important it is for Colorado to look at all of its options. An early release is becoming an option for many inmates when they meet certain criteria.
Learn more here about the impact of coronavirus on the penal system, and the steps Colorado is taking to protect its inmates.
The Impact of Coronavirus in Our Jails
The conditions in prisons and jails across the country make it ideal for the coronavirus to spread. The factors that have allowed the virus to spread so rapidly in places such as cruise ships are near-identical to jails.
- Crowded living spaces
- Communal eating areas
- Shared ventilation
- Difficulty separating the well from the sick
Researchers have found that about 40 percent of the incarcerated population has some sort of pre-existing condition, conditions that increase their risk of serious complications if they are exposed to coronavirus.
Add on top of that the number of inmates over the age of 65 and there are serious risks to individuals serving jail sentences.
Steps Taken to Protect Colorado Inmates
Public health experts have recognized the unique situation presented by COVID-19 in jails and prisons and Colorado correctional facilities have recognized the danger and made some changes. They have adopted some aggressive policies that seek to accelerate the release of some people from prisons and jails.
Colorado’s Federal Prisoners
An inmate serving a federal sentence can petition for an early release as a “compassionate release” under provisions of the First Step Act. The First Step Act increases the credits that prisoners can receive for good conduct time, changing it from 47 days to 54 days.
The newest legislation passed as part of the coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act, grants authority to the Attorney General to make prisoners eligible to serve the rest of their sentences from home in confinement instead of in prison.
Federal Pre-Trial Detainees in Colorado
A defendant who is being detained duet to pending charges is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because of this, they can file emergency motions to have their detention hearing reopened in light of the coronavirus epidemic.
In the state of Colorado, federal judges have not readily granted this relief, but the virus situation is very fluid, and this could change at any time to help reduce prison populations.
Pre-Trial Detainees for the State
Inmates held in Colorado with a high bond they cannot post should seek to file a motion for bond reduction due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prison and jail officials want to reduce jail and prison populations, so it makes sense to release those with pending charges who simply cannot afford to pay their bond. Have an attorney file the motion for you to ensure it is done right.
Eligible Prisoners in Colorado Should File for Early Release
The coronavirus is stealthy. In Colorado, with less than 1 percent of its prison space vacant, the virus has found a foothold in prisons just like Sterling. This could be potentially good news for inmates that qualify for early release.
You simply need to know if you or someone you love is one of them and makes the right moves with a competent criminal defense attorney to have them released early for their health and safety along with others currently still incarcerated.
Are You Eligible for Early Release Due to Coronavirus?
Any person sentenced to the Colorado Department of Corrections in the last four months should file a motion for early release. This motion, pursuant to Rule 35(b), is a great avenue for non-violent offenders who are serving short sentences for felonies to be released on probation.
In the middle of a pandemic, it’s possible for these inmates to make a strong case that their sentence should be shortened, or they should be released on probation for the remainder of their sentence.
If this situation does not apply to a prisoner, then a parole board also has the power to grant early release if an inmate with special needs presents their case.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012 & 2019” and a “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2020 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. Additionally, Expertise names her to its lists of the 25 Best Denver DUI Lawyers and 21 Best Denver Criminal Defense Lawyers, both in 2020. Ms. Diego has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.