The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced Monday that it has released 2,000 inmates from its jails, prisons and other detention facilities over the past five weeks in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus behind bars.
The announcement comes one day after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order designed to speed up the release of at least 700 men and women from correctional facilities across the state. The order speeds up processing of inmates already eligible to be released within the next four months and accelerates the processing of inmates eligible for home detention.
The corrections department offered no details about when the releases began, how many had been freed in the past week or why the department remained quiet amid an aggressive push from local leaders in Baltimore, public health officials and prisoner advocates calling on Hogan to reduce crowding in the state’s prisons.
Department spokesperson Mark Vernarelli said in a statement that the releases were made possible by “leveraging the acceleration and placements" into pretrial supervision and releasing others during the booking process. The department also accelerated processing releases through the Parole Commission and Home Detention Placement program.
As of Friday — the last day a figure was reported — Maryland said it had 136 cases of COVID-19 in the correctional system, with the Jessup Correctional Institution having 40, the highest number in the system. The figure includes inmates, correctional officers and contractual employees.
One inmate in his 60s has died, according to the department.
Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera last week encouraged the release of inmates who were most susceptible to the virus and who pose no threat to public safety.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had been leading the charge for early release of large numbers of prisoners. In March, in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in Maryland, Mosby issued sweeping changes to arrest policies, saying she would not jail people arrested on charges including attempted drug distribution, some thefts and prostitution.
Nearly 200 doctors, professors and staff at Johns Hopkins University sent a similar request to Hogan on March 23, saying the governor’s “inaction on this issue is putting the lives of Marylanders at risk."
Some inmates in Baltimore’s prisons have offered an inside look into the daily living conditions in unclean facilities and with a lack of adequate equipment.
Hogan’s office has not yet said whether it will send more personal protective equipment to the prisons, including N95 masks, which AFSCME leader Patrick Moran said is essential for prison staffers and inmates. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents many correctional department employees.