The ACLU of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Pennsylvania Prison Society filed an emergency request asking the state Supreme Court to use its “King’s Bench” power to protect public health by ordering county common pleas courts to release some people from county jails, including those who are at high risk of serious illness or death if infected by COVID-19 and those who are held pretrial or on short sentences for minor offenses.
The petition argues that drastically reducing jail populations to allow jails the space to follow CDC-recommended safe social distancing and hygiene practices is the only way to prevent widespread contagion, which will inevitably infect people who are incarcerated, jail staff, and the surrounding communities.
The emergency request asks the Supreme Court to order every Court of Common Pleas president judge to limit new jail admissions to the most serious offenses and order the presumptive release of everyone already held on cash bail or for technical and minor-offense probation violations; in a work release program; who are medically vulnerable because they are older or have certain serious health conditions; or who are within three months of completing their minimum sentence.
The petition was filed on behalf of the Pennsylvania Prison Society and five people detained in jails around the commonwealth. It is joined by the Public Defender Association.