ACLU, Public Defender Petition Court of Appeals to Direct State to Reduce Inmates During Coronavirus Crisis

jail cellAdvocates are escalating efforts to get state officials to reduce the prison and jail populations during the coronavirus crisis.

The latest actions include petitions to the Maryland Court of Appeals from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU) and the Office of the Public Defender. The former petition urging the court to order the State to release inmates and improve conditions within the prisons and jails to stem the spread of the virus, and the latter petition urging similar release and improvements for juvenile inmates.

Previously, a coalition of criminal justice advocates and public health experts including the aforementioned organizations sent a letter calling for the Governor to release “certain older, immuno-compromised and parole-eligible prisoners” to avoid the spread of COVID-19 behind prison walls.

Baltimore Fishbowl reports on the steps the coalition has been advocating State to take:

Those steps include ceasing new admissions to the state’s correctional facilities; releasing incarcerated people who can be “safely released to their communities,” with priority for “the most medically vulnerable” people in the system; releasing incarcerated children; supporting people who are released with services, health care and housing; and conducting health screenings and providing hygiene products to inmates.

The Daily Record reports that the State’s response to the juvenile petition called the requests too broad and that expediting emergency procedures should sufficient:

The departments, represented by Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, replied that existing statutory standards for reviewing each juvenile detainee’s case should be expedited but are sufficient in the current crisis. These standards include judicial consideration of the child’s welfare and community’s safety if the youngster is released, the departments stated in their high court filing.

The Fishbowl article notes the state count of confirmed correctional related cases as a total of 57 broken down as “10 inmates, 22 correctional officers, three parole employees, 19 contractors, and one health provider.” It also explains the steps that State has taken so far in the juvenile facilities and in partnership with the jails:

The department of corrections is working with local jails to temporarily suspend new intakes and is also using its discretion to release a limited number of individuals and place them on home detention or pretrial release.

Meanwhile, the juvenile justice system has stopped all admissions and transfers of youth between the department’s facilities except for youth who are brought in due to an arrest. The department has also closed the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center to all admissions and is will be diverting new arrests to the Charles Hickey School in Baltimore County.

Last week, Conduit Street, shared that the Baltimore City State’s Attorneys Office had identified and recommended the release of 157 individuals with 60 low-risk, pretrial inmates having been released from the Baltimore City Jail through expedited or new bail review hearings.

For more information:

‘They feel like sitting ducks.’ Coalition calls for state to reduce number of inmates amid pandemic (Baltimore Fishbowl)

State agencies reject public defender’s call for broad release of juveniles(The Daily Record)

ACLU Petition to Maryland Court of Appeals

Office of the Public Defender Petition to Maryland Court of Appeals

Prior coverage from Conduit Street:

Advocates Call for Elderly, Low-Risk Prisoners’ Release During Crisis 

Coronavirus Concerns Spur Judiciary to Release Low-Risk Inmates From City Jail