From the President: Take Heart and Go Forward

Without bold action, jails and prisons could become the epicenters of the coronavirus.

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

For most of us, COVID-19 is like nothing we have ever experienced. In these frightening times, as we worry about the safety of our families, loved ones, and colleagues, we can draw strength from our shared commitment to our clients, to redressing systemic racism and inequities in the criminal justice system, and to the preservation of the core values guaranteed by the Constitution.

If you are like me, you cling to these ideals now more than ever. Hard times require character, resolve, spirit, and heart. These are the universal qualities of the criminal defense lawyer. This is a lot to be proud of and even more to live up to. Personally, I could not be prouder to be NACDL’s president than I am during this crisis.

As you all know, courts are issuing closure orders and tolling speedy trial periods around the country. On its public Coronavirus Resources{1} 1  Go to page, NACDL is aggregating its statements and messages; motions, pleadings, rulings, and other court papers related to COVID-19 and at-risk clients; advocacy letters on which NACDL is a signatory; various resources from across the criminal justice community; and news of interest on the intersection of criminal justice and the coronavirus. On this page, not only NACDL members but also the public will find sections linking to End Incarceration’s tracking of changes to incarcerated populations across the country, Courthouse News Service’s and the Brennan Center for Justice’s tracking of changes and responses of federal and state courts nationwide, and the Marshall Project’s tracking of prisons’ responses to the virus, including changes to visitation rules, among many other resources. When you log on to the Coronavirus Resources page at, this is the first message you see:

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, “[t]he American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.” These are not fixed populations. As recently as 2017, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), more than 10 million people a year, or close to 1 million people a month, are admitted into America’s jails alone — jails that averaged an overall weekly inmate turnover rate of 54 percent. Some 20 percent of America’s jails operated at or above 100 percent capacity at mid-year 2017. And according to a 2015 BJS special report, a 2011-12 survey revealed that “an estimated 40 percent of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates reported having a current chronic medical condition[.]” The far-reaching challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic not only implicate the health, safety, and welfare of more than two million incarcerated individuals, but also extend to the functioning of America’s courts, individuals’ access to counsel, and concerns about eroding liberties in this nation, among other matters.

Without bold action, jails and prisons could become the epicenters of the coronavirus. Our clients and the criminal justice system as a whole need us to answer the call. Government officials have the tools to deal with this impending calamity, but they need the political will. Far from it, the Department of Justice has requested emergency authority from Congress to delay or toll judicial proceedings in criminal cases and civil enforcement proceedings in times of emergency or civil disobedience. One of the requests to Congress would allow prosecutors to petition a judge to indefinitely detain someone during an emergency. NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer was widely quoted as calling this and other secretly requested powers “terrifying.”

In troubled times, I often find wisdom and comfort in the writings of our great American authors, among them, John Steinbeck:

I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’-where — wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build — I’ll be there, too. …

The Grapes of Wrath

And so too, “Wherever you can look,” NACDL — Liberty’s Last Champion — will be there. To all of you, be safe and stay healthy — and never stop fighting!

About the Author

Nina J. Ginsberg, a founding partner at DiMuroGinsberg, P.C., in Alexandria, Virginia, has practiced criminal law for more than 35 years. She has represented individuals and corporations in a wide range of matters, with a focus on national security law, white collar investigations and prosecution, financial and securities fraud, computer crime, copyright fraud, and professional ethics.

Nina J. Ginsberg (NACDL Member)
DiMuroGinsberg, P.C.
Alexandria, Virginia

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