Concern Escalates as Four Burlington County Correction Officers Test Positive for COVID-19

Concern Escalates as Four (4) Correction Officers Test Positive for COVID-19

On Thursday, April 9, 2020, Burlington County Administration confirmed that four (4) Corrections Officers have tested positive for the Novel Coronavirus.  The County asserted that no inmates have tested positive at this juncture and outlined the procedures employed, including quarantine upon admission to the jail, that are being utilized to prevent the spread of the virus.  Visitors have largely been banned for several weeks and the jail has taken the temperature of employees and inmates daily.

The Courts have already taken steps to address County Jail populations in the age of the Coronavirus.  As a result of legal action taken by the Office of the Public Defender, a large contingent of inmates who were serving sentences in the County Jail have already been released.  It is unclear whether all the inmates will be required to complete their sentence when the virus is not longer an immediate threat to the safety of the public.

Nevertheless, non-violent offenders continue to be incarcerated.  Some are simply charged with a crime and have not been convicted. It is troubling that certain inmates in the County Jail system are presumed innocent but may still be exposed to a deadly virus in a confined and often unsanitary condition.  Other inmates have been convicted of non-violent offenses and are serving sentences in the County Jail (which are typically sentences of less than one (1) year). Some would argue that this exposure raises serious concerns that serving a sentence of incarceration under these circumstances constitutes a Constitutional Violation against the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Regardless, our public health officials have preached social distancing and its dramatic impact on “flattening the curve” of this deadly virus.  Greater attention is warranted to the risk of a large population of inmates in a confined setting. While the Burlington County Jail clearly took steps to avoid the spread, four (4) Officers were nonetheless infected.  This represents a risk that the virus can spread to not only the inmate population but also the public servants who work on the front lines of our criminal justice system. Continued incarceration of non-violent inmates may result in unintended consequences that reach far beyond the walls of the jail.

Here is the article from the Burlington County Times:

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