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Case Name In re: the Petition of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, Brian McHale, Jeremy Hunsicker, Christopher Aubry, Michael Foundos, and Frederick Leonard, on behalf of all similarly situated individuals CJ-PA-0008
Docket / Court 70 MM 2020 ( State Court )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Jail Conditions
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: The Pennsylvania Prison Society and incarcerated individuals filed a petition requesting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take immediate action to reduce the population of Pennsylvania county jails. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the petition but ordered that the ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: The Pennsylvania Prison Society and incarcerated individuals filed a petition requesting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take immediate action to reduce the population of Pennsylvania county jails. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the petition but ordered that the Pennsylvania judicial system take steps to reduce the population of incarcerated individuals and ensure that institutions adequately address COVID-19.

On March 30, 2020, the Pennsylvania Prison Society and five incarcerated individuals, represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, filed an emergency petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Petitioners argued that under state law the Supreme Court had legal authority to reduce jail populations and that extraordinary measures in other states were indicative of the need for jail population reductions. Petitioners urged the Court to instruct all courts in the Commonwealth to immediately order county jails within their respective jurisdictions to release the following categories of people, subject to the objection provision outlined below:
a. Those who are within three months of, or beyond, their minimum sentence;
b. Those under a probation detainer (or serving a sentence) for a violation of probation or county parole where the violation does not arise out of the commission of a new felony offense;
c. Those eligible to periodically leave their correctional facilities, such as those eligible for work release or serving intermittent sentences (e.g., weekends);
d. Those detained pretrial solely due to an order imposing cash bail; and
e. Any incarcerated person at increased risk of severe COVID-19 complications and death as defined by the CDC, including those over the age of 45, and people with any of the following underlying medical conditions: blood disorders, chronic kidney or liver disease, compromised immune system, endocrine disorders (including diabetes), metabolic disorders, heart and lung disease, neurological and neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions, and current or recent pregnancy.
Petitioners also requested that the Court take additional measures to reduce jail populations, including the cessation of setting cash bails, prioritizing hearings for in-custody defendants, and ensuring the availability of a venue for criminal proceedings. They also requested a special master to oversee compliance with the requests outlined above.

On April 3, 2020, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the petition. 2020 WL 3116883. The court recognized the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, but denied the petition because the immediate release of certain persons failed to consider the potential danger of inmates to the general population and the diversity of situations. Even so, the court directed that the President Judges of each judicial district coordinate with county officials to ensure that the county correctional institutions were adequately addressing the threat of COVID-19 and applying the recommendations of public health officials. If the recommendations of those officials could not be followed, President Judges were ordered to work with county officials to identify persons for potential release or transfer to reduce the populations held in institutions. President Judges were also ordered to take steps to limit the introduction of new inmates. Chief Justice Saylor wrote a concurring opinion, stating that, the Governor should issue an Executive Order, as the authority to release prisoners on account of a disaster emergency rests with him. 2020 WL 3109546.

The deadline for reconsideration was on May 12; the case is closed.

Cedar Hobbs - 04/02/2020
Averyn Lee - 06/14/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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CDC Guidance ordered implemented
Mitigation Denied
Mitigation Granted
Mitigation Requested
Population reduction/cap
Release Denied
Release Requested
Release-process created/modified
Social distancing ordered
Crowding / caseload
Conditions of confinement
Sanitation / living conditions
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Special Case Type
Appellate Court is initial court
Causes of Action State law
Plaintiff Description Pennsylvania Prison Society
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 03/30/2020
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  King's Bench Petition on County Jails during COVID-19
Date: MARCH 30, 2020
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
State Supreme Court
70 MM 2020
CJ-PA-0008-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
State Supreme Court
Application for Extraordinary Relief Under the Court's King's Bench Jurisdiction
CJ-PA-0008-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Public.Resource.Org
State Supreme Court
Order Denying Application for Extraordinary Relief (228 A.3d 885)
CJ-PA-0008-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | External Link | Detail
Source: State Court Website
show all people docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Deiderick, Brian (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Feinberg, Jonathan H. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Freedman, John A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Lin, Susan M. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Messing, Paul (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Nelson-Major, Hayden (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Nyborg-Burch, Erika (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Rudovsky, David (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Shapiro, Samuel M (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Szemanski, Ali (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Taylor, Nyssa (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Walczak, Witold J. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
CJ-PA-0008-0001 | CJ-PA-0008-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Daley, Michael P (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Eisenberg, Ronald (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Graziano, Jill Marie (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Holmes, Timothy A. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Kiefer, Catherine Banner (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Neary, Keli Marie (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Perez, Theron (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Schwab, Gregory George (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Shapiro, Joshua D. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Other Lawyers Diggs, Khadija Tamu (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Pittinsky, David (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Withers, Scot Russel (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs

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