ACLU of Alabama Statement on Mobile County Jails COVID-19 Testing

Affiliate: ACLU of Alabama
May 6, 2020 2:45 pm

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Alabama
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Today, the Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced a temporary testing site outside of the county jail after 38 incarcerated people and 30 staff have tested positive. However, testing will only be performed for corrections officers and other staff entering the facility, but according to Sheriff Cochran, none will be used for the incarcerated population.

Dillon Nettles, policy analyst at ACLU of Alabama, said:

“Limiting testing to certain staff and visitors over a temporary time period ignores the guidance from public health experts who have acknowledged that COVID-19 can still spread through asymptomatic individuals. It is also shameful that Sheriff Cochrane is resisting testing any of the incarcerated population considering the increased risk of spread in jails because of crowding within the facilities. We’re already seeing other states like Tennessee implement system wide testing, and it is urgent that Alabama counties also extend testing to all jail populations.

Because of how frequently people enter and exit from the broader community, these jails can quickly become vectors of COVID-19 unless the Sheriff, Mayor, and other officials are willing to act quickly to substantially reduce jail populations now. Mobile has taken steps to reduce its jail population from 1580 to 1100, but it is not enough. Even with these reductions, Mobile still has one of the largest jail populations compared to its population size. Jefferson County has a per capita rate of 121.47 people in jail per 100,000 people, whereas Montgomery County’s rate is 176.61. By contrast, Mobile’s per capita rate is 266.21, which is more than doubled that of Jefferson County.

Clearly, Mobile needs to take more drastic steps to reduce these numbers even further, which is why it is concerning to see continuing arrests and admittance into the county jail for minor offenses like marijuana possession, suspended driver’s licenses, and expired tags. Sheriff Cochrane and Mayor Stimpson must stop these arrests and adjust their policies to protect the health and safety of the incarcerated people in their care, the staff who work there, and the broader community in Mobile.

Additional recommendations include use of summonses instead of custodial arrests for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies; suspending the execution of any failure to appear or failure to pay warrants and technical violations; and converting the bail schedule to an unsecured bail schedule for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

Jail Population Estimate

2019 Census Population

Per 100K Capita

Mobile

1100

413210

266.21

Jefferson

800

658573

121.47

Montgomery

400

226486

176.61

Orleans

800

390144

205.05

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release