The neutral expert witness appointed by U.S. Judge Sheryl Lipman has made his report in the case Busby v. Bonner, in which the plaintiffs seek significant changes in the manner of treating actual and potential COVID-19 victims in the Shelby County jail.
The expert is Michael K. Bray, director of the criminal justice division for Sabot Consulting, and the text of his repor was released Tuesday.
Extracts from the lengthy report seem strongly to support the plaintiffs’ case. The general thrust is summed up in the following estimate of the response plan to the Covid-19 epidemic put in place at the jail by Wellpath, the caregiving agency contracted with by Shelby County to administer medical policy at the jail.
“The Wellpath Covid-19 response plan is inadequate to protect the vulnerable inmates housed in the Shelby County Jail,“ says the report. “Wellpath leadership needs to be more aggressive and more vocal about protecting the vulnerable inmates in their care. There are several practices that take place in the jail that are potentially harmful to their patients, and they should not be allowed to continue.”
Further: “The Shelby County Jail is not maximizing its efforts to enforce social distancing in its living units and should consider rethinking how it programs inmates in all areas of the jail. ... [There is not] consistent multidisciplinary effort within the jail to secure alternative custody venues for vulnerable inmates.
Among the many specific findings: The report criticizes the way in which inmates are moved back and forth from medical isolation to County courtrooms, both in the way they are transported, in their lengthy stays with other prisoners in holding dock, and in the lack of testing for exposure to the coronavirus. In addition, the jail is faulted for not clustering vulnerable inmates in housing units together away from the general population, nor do jail authorities enforce sufficient sociaL dIstancing..
The report concludes that “there is no concentrated and coordinated effort to assemble and present information to the courts regarding an inmate’s medical conditions that may make him vulnerable to serious illness or death while housed in the jail.” And it suggests Mischelle Best, the Court Expeditor, while” hard working and passionate about her job,” is “spread too thin and has to do the job of a competent criminal defense attorney in addition to her other duties.”
Finally, while “a significant number” of vulnerable inmates had very serious charges, others “have been charged with garden variety felonies and ... because of their medical condition are not a current threat to public safety if they were placed in a structured and supervised environment.”
Judge Lipman is expected to review the report, along with final briefs from both the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ sides and to issue her ruling sometime in July.