Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy

Document Type



COVID-19 is still novel. As scientists continue racing to characterize the virus and its mutations, promote behavioral change, and optimize treatment and vaccination strategies, public policy makers shift their attention from one high priority population to the next. These spotlights have converged on one truism of the pandemic: COVID-19 infection, and all its sequelae, have magnified long-established social and structural inequities in U.S. institutions—including practices in jails, prisons, and detention facilities. While these facilities were recognized as early incubators of the virus, the response of the facility administrators and local leaders were at best uneven and at worst nonexistent. When lawsuits began rolling out and judges wanted to learn what was going on inside these population black boxes, they called on subject matter experts. This Article is an account of one subject matter expert’s travels, inspections, declarations, and virtual hearings during the first chaotic months of the pandemic. The author recounts his wildly diverse reception as an expert in jails and courtrooms from Detroit to East Baton Rouge. At times, expertise was recognized and honored; at other times, expertise was toyed with and dismissed. The Article concludes with suggesting that not only are U.S. court proceedings typically not a good fit for expert testimony, but courts are also not designed to recognize or promote health policy or even prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. Our elected officials in the legislative and executive branches need to honor their responsibilities for the health and well-being of all of their constituents—even those behind bars.