THE STORY about a federal judge declining to intervene in a case filed by Arkansas inmates — some of whom want out of prison because of the covid-19 outbreak — might have deserved front-page treatment, if the front page weren’t so filled these days.
We counted four stories Wednesday on the front page alone dealing with the pandemic. And that didn’t include any of the indispensable nuggets in the In The News section.
The state of Arkansas saw a spike in virus cases the day before. State senators want a special session on liability, protecting some businesses during the Great Reopening. Some states, national reports say, are doctoring covid-19 numbers. So John Moritz’ story on the inmate lawsuit anchored the Arkansas section. We don’t envy the job of news-side editors some days. Decisions, decisions.
The state won this courtroom fight for now. Because U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker made the right decision. She ruled that the state had already taken many steps to protect prisoners.
According to the story, attorneys for the prisoners say officials in the Department of Corrections played down the threat of the virus early on, and it spread in two prisons where it has infected more than 1,000 and killed eight. Attorneys want inmates to be provided with certain cleaning supplies and even, in some cases, release. For example, those most at-risk to the virus.
The state argued it has already done a lot of that, including speeding up releases for some inmates. The judge agreed, in parts. According to the article:
“While expressing concern over the rapid spread of the virus at the Cummins and Randall L. Williams units, Baker also wrote that the public’s interest required deference to those who run the prisons.
“‘These factors dictate that the Court should approach intrusion into the core activities of the state’s prison system with caution,’ Baker wrote.”
We think it might have been the governor who said at an early presser that these inmates are there for a reason. And as the judge notes, the rest of us should defer to those running the prisons, at least in these matters.
None of that is to say that everybody sitting in prison today deserves the death penalty. Which covid-19 is capable of dealing. But once officials know a pandemic is a threat — and who knew such a thing on March 1? — a prison environment can effectively limit a spread by forced quarantine. After all, inmates can’t choose to go to a casino.
The ACLU et al. vowed an appeal. The state should hold its ground. One of the most basic responsibilities of government is to keep its people safe—prisoners, too. Almost everybody was taken by surprise by covid-19. But right now the state seems to be making the right moves in dealing with the population behind bars. And a certain judge is making the right moves in dealing with this lawsuit.
Print Headline: The right moves