JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Families of non-violent offenders inside the Duval County jail are pleading for their release as COVID-19 cases inside the facility continue to rise.
Yvonne Clark told News4Jax her partner, Bobby Morgan, 69, is serving a 60-day sentence for a suspended license violation that could threaten his health.
“He’s had throat cancer. He has had an abdominal aneurism. He has high blood pressure,” Clark said. “I just don’t think that driving with a suspended license and being under house arrest should cause you to have to go someplace for 60 days that could be fatal.”
Clark said Morgan’s pre-existing conditions place him at high risk for complications if he contracts the virus.
Morgan also has a list of prior offenses. News4Jax spoke with the family about his previous charges, and the family said he had an ankle monitor malfunction multiple times and claimed he never left the house.
Clark said since Morgan’s court date and booking, he thinks he’s been in close contact with inmates who have tested positive for the virus.
As of Thursday, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported 434 inmates have tested positive, 54 corrections officers tested positive and 138 corrections officers are in quarantine.
Clark said Morgan’s attorneys told her they are aware of the problems at the jail but said there’s nothing they can do.
“I just think it’s just immoral that people who really are not bad people who haven’t done anything seriously wrong are put in a position to where they could be ill or (die) or bring something home to their family,” Clark said.
News4Jax spoke with Mitch Stone, the president of the Florida Association of Defense Lawyers, who said alternative sentences can be perused if it’s appropriate.
“You still have to be cognizant of the fact that you have an elderly person being introduced into a health crisis problem that they may not come out of that,” Stone said. “Certainly, there is no death sentence for driving on a suspended license, and if this guy gets COVID-19 in the jail and he doesn’t recover, then that’s certainly irresponsible.”
Stone reminds people it’s taxpayers paying for inmates’ treatment, which can be expensive. He also said we have to come up with ways to reduce the jail population.
“Why should we put this person in this jail when it could potentially put them at risk? You hope that the people that are making these decisions are taking that into account,” Stone said.
Stone said it’s up to attorneys to be creative and come up with alternatives for what you can do to convince the other side of a more appropriate way for punishment without exposing people to the virus.
The defense lawyers encourage sheriffs’ offices to come up with ways to process people into the system without having to put them in jail, hoping this will slow the spread in the facilities.