Senate Workgroup Releases COVID-19 Report and Recommendations for State and Local Criminal Justice System

jail cell blockThe report from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee workgroup on the Courts and Criminal Justice System During the COVID-19 Pandemic included 19 recommendations for improvement. 

The report looks at the actions taken by the courts and other criminal justice stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic so far and provides recommendations to improve or expand upon those actions as the pandemic and reopening efforts continue.

Maryland Matters reports:

“COVID-19 has prompted a reckoning with Maryland’s need to reform its criminal justice system. A system, which like the virus itself, disproportionately harms the state’s black residents,” said Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), leader of the workgroup, in a statement. “The steps outlined in this report can make our courts and criminal justice system better during this crisis, and can provide a path forward as we move forward to a more just criminal justice system.”

Carter, Senate Judicial Proceedings Vice Chair Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) and Sens. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery), Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) and Justin Ready (R-Carroll) met virtually four times between late May and June with advocates, stakeholders and representatives from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Department of Juvenile Services and the Maryland Judiciary.

The workgroup’s report included 19 recommendations including the following most relevant to local correctional facilities:

  • Recommendation 1: In an effort to depopulate correctional facilities further and thereby reduce the spread of COVID-19 within them, eligibility for release and expedited parole consideration under Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.’s April 18, 2020 executive order should be modified and expanded.
  • Recommendation 3: Courts should continue to expand the use of remote hearings whenever possible. Courts should be mindful of transportation-related challenges and the possible coercive impact of pretrial detention and incarceration.
  • Recommendation 7: All correctional facilities, including local correctional facilities, should implement and continue universal testing and contact tracing for inmates, staff, and visitors. Testing should continue for as long as there is any risk of infection to the public, inmates, and correctional staff.
  • Recommendation 8: DJS, in consultation with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and the Maryland Judiciary, should provide weekly updates on the number of children being housed in State and local adult correctional facilities.
  • Recommendation 10: All correctional facilities should (1) require strict adherence to personal protective equipment, cleaning, and safety protocols and (2) ensure proper training for staff related to COVID-19. In addition, inmates should be provided with adequate sanitary provisions on a daily basis. These sanitary provisions must be provided without cost to inmates.
  • Recommendation 12: Correctional facilities should continue to expand policies allowing for access to telephone and video communications that are free to inmates for communication between inmates and their attorneys, families, and friends.
  • Recommendation 13: DPSCS, each local correctional facility, and DJS should work to maximize the amount of time that individuals in their custody are able to spend outside of a cell or confined indoor area.
  • Recommendation 14: All correctional facilities, including local correctional facilities, should provide inmates with at least five free, 15-minute telephone or video calls each week.
  • Recommendation 16: The State and each local jurisdiction should ensure adequate pretrial services.
  • Recommendation 17: Fees associated with monitoring (both pretrial and post-sentence) that are typically paid by the individuals being monitored should be eliminated or otherwise covered by State and local governments. The State should provide grant resources to local governments to satisfy this recommendation and, to the extent possible, should use the Pretrial Services Grant Fund to cover fees associated with pretrial supervision.

For more information:

Senators Release Recommendations to Protect Md. Prisoners From COVID-19 (Maryland Matters)

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Workgroup Report on the Courts and Criminal Justice System During the COVID-19 Pandemic