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Maryland prison system reports 17 confirmed coronavirus cases; attorneys seek relief for juveniles held in confinement

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced Friday that 17 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed inside correctional facilities statewide, and the state Office of the Public Deender followed with a petition to help get children out of juvenile detention facilities.

The events mark the latest battle line as Maryland officials deal with the growing assault on state institutions. As of Thursday evening, three inmates, eight contractual staff, four correctional officers and two Division of Probation employees have all tested positive for COVID-19, according to a media release from the Office of Communications and Outreach.

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The confirmed cases are in the Jessup, Baltimore and Hegerstown regions.

The most cases have been reported in the Jessup Correctional Institution, with eight, including two inmates and six contractual employees. The Baltimore Metropolitan Center has two positive COVID-19 cases, including a correctional officer and one contractual employee, according to the department.

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Also Friday, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender filed an application with the state’s highest court for extraordinary relief for children in Maryland’s Juvenile jails and prisons. The office asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to act quickly, asserting “it is not a question of if, but when COVID-19 will arrive in Maryland juvenile jails.”

There are an estimated 347 youth held in juvenile jail facilities, including children as young as 11-years-old. Earlier this month, health professionals called for the release of young offenders to “mitigate harm” from a COVID-19 outbreak.

“In crowded, congregate facilities it is impossible for young people to maintain the recommended distance or take the necessary steps to sanitize the surfaces they encounter,” according to the public defender’s petition to the court.

"Release is the only effective means of protecting young people from contracting and transmitting COVID-19. In fact, confining a large number of people to an enclosed area – like the Princess cruise ship or Life Care nursing home outbreaks demonstrate – creates the ideal breeding ground for the pandemic.”

The adult jail facilities are already starting to show the strain. Friday’s announcement that 17 people connected to the prison system noted that a jail in Baltimore had one contractual employee test positive for the virus. Dorsey Run Correctional Facility, another facility in Jessup, confirmed one positive case for a correctional officer, as has the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.

One correctional officer in Hagerstown tested positive for the virus at the Maryland Correctional Training Center. One inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women tested positive.

A supervisor at the Division of Parole and Probation in Hagerstown and an agent at the Division of Parole and Probation in Baltimore also tested positive, according to the department.

After a person tests positive, the department’s COVID-19 response team begins “contact tracing” to locate any staff member, inmate, detainee, or supervised individual who may have had contact, the department has said. Inmates who test positive are monitored in isolation for a minimum of 14 days and will have to be medically cleared to return for work.

This story will be updated.

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