Public defender talks about how the coronavirus is affecting Alaska’s prisoners

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The new Coronavrius has impacted life as we know it, and nearly everyone has had to make changes. But what about the prisoners in Alaska?

Public defenders are worried about the safety and rights of prisoners as the court system adjusts its schedule during the COVID-19 outbreak. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

Ben Muse, with the Alaska Public Defender Agency, said that they are working through the changes at court.

While essential hearings have been continuing telephonically, jury trials have been suspended for at least 1 month. Muse said that while many out of custody defendants are inconvenienced by the delays, they are also worried about the safety of defendants in the jail system. He said there is a possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak inside a prison.

"It's very difficult to achieve any sort of social distancing within a correctional facility. There is just a lot of close contact between inmates and it's unclear what kind of ability people have to wash their hands,” Muse said. He also said that alcohol based hand sanitizer is not allowed in the jail due to fears of inmates drinking it which leads to more concerns with the safety of the inmates.

Muse said they have been working with all the stakeholders, trying to figure out ways to best serve their clients and ensure that their rights are not being violated.

Muse said that if trials remain suspended for an extended period of time, there could potentially be Fourth Amendment 'speedy trial' concerns that need to be raised.

Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.