There have been a number of encouraging recent announcements about coronavirus vaccines, with several pharmaceutical companies saying that they have developed vaccines with a high degree of effectiveness and minor side effects. This week, discussions about how to prioritize distribution of the vaccines raised interesting questions related to the criminal justice system. Keep reading for more on this story and other news.
Vaccination Complication. As the Associated Press reports, the federal prison system is expected to be near the front of the line to receive coronavirus vaccines. This is not surprising in light of the fact that prisons and jails across the country have been the sites of major COVID outbreaks throughout the course of the pandemic.
Just this week, WBTV reported that the North Carolina Department of Public Safety has temporarily closed three facilities in order to shift staff to monitor inmates admitted to hospitals and create a medical surge unit to lessen the system’s use of regular hospitals already struggling to cope with increasing infection rates in communities throughout the state. Another WBTV report notes that 65 inmates at Mecklenburg County Detention Center have tested positive for the virus and an addition 255 are in isolation or quarantine because of potential exposure. The Mecklenburg outbreak has been traced to detention center staff who worked shifts while unaware they were infected.
While there is widespread agreement nationally that detention center staff should be among the first to be vaccinated, there’s now a debate about when inmates should receive vaccines. A New York Times article this week said that the American Medical Association suggests that prisoners should not necessarily be at the very front of the line to receive vaccines but should be in the same prioritized position as other people who live in congregate settings. That idea is proving to be unpopular in some areas. For example, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said several times this week that he does not support vaccinating incarcerated people prior to the general public.
Courts Slow. Carolina Public Press reported this week that the pandemic continues to out incredible stress on the court system in North Carolina. The report provides examples if complications faced by jurisdictions across the state – the first jury trial in Mecklenburg County since March ended this week in a mistrial because of concern that a juror had been exposed to the virus; the first jury trial scheduled in Iredell County is going to be held in an old gymnasium to allow enough space for social distancing. In a separate report, the Durham Herald-Sun said that almost all criminal hearings scheduled in Durham this week were postponed because an unknown number of staff members in the DA’s office were under quarantine because of exposure to the virus.
Too Tall Bandit. WLOS reported this week that the FBI believes that a series of bank robberies in Western North Carolina are the work of a single perpetrator – the “Too Tall Bandit.” The most recent robbery was at the United Community Bank in Etowah on November 27 and the preceding one occurred earlier in the month at the First Bank in Brevard. The Too Tall Bandit also is believed to have committed several other bank robberies in North Carolina and Tennessee over the past 10 years. The FBI is offering a $15,000 reward for information helpful to their investigation.
Deputy Passes. There was sad news out of Rocky Mount this week where Nash County Sheriff’s Deputy Jared Allison passed away on Tuesday after being hospitalized for serious injuries he suffered in a car crash while on duty on Thanksgiving evening. Allison was attempting to stop a speeding motorcyclist when he passed through an intersection in his squad car with his lights and siren on and was hit by another vehicle. Allison had been with the sheriff’s department for two and a half years and was an Army veteran.