Monday, July 6, 2020


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    ACLU seeks release of many Utah prisoners due to virus

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    Doug McMurdo
    Doug McMurdo
    Editor Doug McMurdo reports on news out of the Moab City Center, tourism, courts, change of government and more.

    Grand not defendant in case; jail population at historic low

    Public domain image by ErikaWittlieb via Pixabay

    The American Civil Liberties Union on April 1 asked the Utah Supreme Court to release many prisoners in the State due to COVID-19.

    Grand County was removed as a respondent in the case after Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan was able to prove to the ACLU that its claims were not actionable against the county because local officials “had already been working hard to keep all residents safe from both the COVID-19 virus and individuals who pose a public safety threat to the community,” said Sloan. “Given that the ACLU was satisfied that Grand County has prioritized inmate health and constitutional rights as a paramount concern, the ACLU moved for Grand County’s dismissal on April 8.”

    The ACLU in its petition for extraordinary relief asked that inmates, including pretrial detainees and those who have been convicted and have less than six months to serve on their sentence — and inmates who are at high risk of complications if they were to become infected–to be released.

    The ACLU said officials could use their judgment in weighing who gets released based on “appropriate consideration” for public safety.”

    ACLU lawyers believe doing so would prevent the loss of life in Utah’s prisons and jails.

    According to Sloan, her office worked in collaboration with Jail Commander Shan Hackwell, local judges, court staffs and others to revise policies and procedures starting on March 11, a few weeks before the ACLU filed court documents seeking the release of most of them.

    Court sessions were converted to video, and courtrooms were shuttered. Inmates and jail staff are screened for COVID-19 at the time of booking and at the start of each shift. Inmates were provided additional cleaning and personal hygiene supplies.

    Jail population was reduced by allowing for “cite and releases” for class A misdemeanors that do not pose a public safety concern; temporarily suspending non-essential warrants; and reducing requested bail amounts with the use of ankle monitoring systems that allow individuals who are deemed a flight risk to remain at home and awarding maximum good time credits to eligible inmates.

    As a result of these rules and efforts of Grand County and the Moab District Court, inmate populations in the Grand County jail are at historic lows. As of the time of Grand County’s dismissal from the lawsuit, Grand County was housing only 16 local inmates, “less than 25% of our bed capacity,” said Sloan in an email.

    Sloan refused to negotiate with the ACLU over the release of the 16 inmates given the nature of the charges against them, which include manslaughter, sexual assault, repeat domestic violence offenders and drug trafficking.

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