This week’s ruling from the nation’s high court rejected an attempt by two elderly inmates to lift that hold, so the order could be enforced. Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, dissented, saying it was a matter of life and death that the order be enforced.

“The people incarcerated in the Pack Unit are some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Sotomayor wrote. “They face severe risks of serious illness and death from COVID–19, but are unable to take even the most basic precautions against the virus on their own. If the prison fails to enforce social distancing and mask wearing, perform regular testing, and take other essential steps, the inmates can do nothing but wait for the virus to take its toll. Twenty lives have been lost already. I fear the stay will lead to further, needless suffering.”

So it often is in the criminal justice system. Whether it’s somebody being held before trial on high bail, or a parolee facing a long jail wait for a hearing, people behind bars, particularly those who are poor, often have their rights trampled, the same rights so many of the rest of us take for granted.

“It’s a lot quicker to just throw someone back in prison and not worry about jumping through the hoops,” Breihan says.

Bough’s order will upend the rush to fill Missouri’s prisons with parolees. But it won’t do anything about those whose rights were already violated. They are stuck behind bars as cases of COVID-19 rise exponentially, hoping to avoid the death sentence that lurks around the corner.

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