The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on vulnerable communities in Massachusetts. This week the Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments in two appeals that concern the impact of the public health crisis on prisoners. GRI Faculty Affiliate and GBH News legal analyst Daniel Medwed joined GBH’s Morning Edition to discuss.


Joe Mathieu: Over the past year we’ve heard a lot about how COVID-19 has affected people behind bars. What’s the first case on the SJC calendar about?

Daniel Medwed: Just to frame the conversation, you’re right — COVID has disproportionately harmed the incarcerated population. Data show that about 17,000 people were in state or county lockup in Massachusetts at the onset, and as of the beginning of April 2021, more than 4,600 of them have tested positive. Many people argue, and for good reason, the risks posed by COVID-19 should serve as a thumb on the scale of release. Decarceration, reducing overcrowding, helps everyone. But now that the tide of the pandemic is turning a bit, the question is how courts should treat COVID-19 considerations going forward. One SJC case tomorrow morning, Commonwealth v. McDermott, tackles that issue. It concerns whether judges may consider whether a person has been infected with COVID and recovered, or been vaccinated, in deciding whether they deserve to have their sentence delayed while appeals play out. There’s precedent for the idea that medical conditions should not be used against a person in the carceral setting and the defense argument flows from that.


Listen to full interview here.