Pandemic Court Closures Strand Hundreds of Thousands in Dangerous Jails Awaiting Trials

Interview with Wanda Bertram, communications strategist, Prison Policy Initiative, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

The number of criminal trials are way down in New York City, a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of courthouses. In fact, according to a recent article in the New York Times, since March there have been only 9 trials in New York City, whereas during the previous year there was a total of 800. The situation in New York City is representative of similar court closures across the country.

It’s not just that trials are delayed, which could amount to a violation of a defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy trial, but that the vast majority of the half-million people sitting in jail awaiting trial are there because they can’t afford bail. That situation exposes defendants to dangerous health risks, while also wreaking havoc on their jobs, their family life and custody of their children.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman for the Prison Policy Initiative, which conducts research on criminal justice matters. Here she discusses the detrimental impact of court closures and suggests a better solution for defendants awaiting trial in jail.

For more information, visit Prison Policy Initiative at


Subscribe to our Weekly Summary