Inmates' loved ones afraid of coronavirus' spread: "I don't wanna exchange my wedding dress for a coffin"

Americans worry for incarcerated loved ones
Americans worry for incarcerated loved ones 03:35

An Alabama nurse said she was "almost 100% certain" her fiance, an inmate serving time on a work release program, would not make it home due to preexisting health conditions that put him in the high risk category for COVID-19. Concerns over how fast the coronavirus spreads in prisons have incarcerated Americans and their loved ones worried for their safety, and has even led to the release of some nonviolent offenders.

"I don't wanna exchange my wedding dress for a coffin, but that's what I'm so certain is gonna happen," Kylie Herring told CBS News' Omar Villafranca. 

Herring and her fiance, 27-year-old Dylan James Hendricks, have been planning a wedding for June when he was up for parole. 

Hendricks, who has severe asthma, has been serving time for stolen property and drug-related charges. Since the pandemic hit the country, Herring has been fearful that COVID-19 would kill him "because of his health."

She said she wants him released early, echoing the pleas of families and inmates across the U.S. 

Chilling sound on a video appearing to show Alabama inmates describing how easily the coronavirus could spread in the state's jail system can be heard, "We need help… death is imminent for us."

Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt has joined the calls to release nonviolent offenders, saying the matter was "absolutely a civil rights issue."

"There is going to be a time of reckoning when this disease begins to spread among people who have failed to social distance, and that is going to be the prison system," Merritt said. 

Those fears have become a reality at Cook County Jail in Chicago, where at least six inmates have died and nearly 400 people have tested positive, despite increased sanitation efforts. 

"If somebody's coughing, we tell them to either cover their mouths, face, you know, and wash their hands if they're coughing. And that's basically all we can do," Cook County inmate Alex Sanchez said.

Sanchez' mother, Maria Valdez, begged for the 20-year-old nonviolent offender's early release. 

"I'm terrified if something happens to my son," she said. 

Sanchez' attorney was able to get him released with an ankle monitor, allowing him to wait for his upcoming trial from the safety of his home. 

While some similar stories have played out, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said closing the jail altogether was not an option. 

"I certainly can't call the Chicago Police Department and say listen, those people you picked up for murder last night, those brutal murders? Yeah, just keep them locked up in your office," Dart said. "You can't do that."