Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, defense attorneys, medical professionals and others are asking Gov. Larry Hogan to release certain older, immuno-compromised and parole-eligible prisoners as the state continues to battle the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The letter sent Monday calls on Hogan to release all prisoners who are 60 years old or older or who are medically vulnerable and have five years or less left on their prison sentence. The letter’s signers, which include the ACLU, Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe and several Johns Hopkins professors, ask that a number of prisoners be released to probation services.
Others that the group said should be eligible include those who have been deemed low risk by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections and have two years or less remaining on their sentence.
The letter also calls for women serving “determinate” or fixed prison terms for minor crimes to be released to a probation sentence. Those in prison for felony crimes who would have opportunities to have their sentences reduced would not be eligible. The advocates argue that would allow the women’s facility to be repurposed to reduce density in other state prisons.
“We must address these populations if we are to avoid the spread of COVID-19 behind prison walls,” the letter reads. “Aside from demonstrating compassion to people in prison, this measure is consistent with measures needed to protect the state as a whole.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office did not reply to a request for comment Monday.
During a press conference last Thursday, Hogan said of prisoners, “they’re safer where they are," even as calls to release some prisoners escalated.
The letter, signed also by the Charm City Care Connection and Healthcare for the Homeless advocacy groups, is just the latest salvo in an ongoing push by advocacy groups to help reduce the state’s prison population in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Last week the Amercian Civil Liberties Union sent a similar request Hogan before joining the latest letter.
Mosby has been particularly vocal. In a statement Monday, she praised Hogan for his “steadfast, courageous and decisive leadership” guiding the state through the first stages of the coronavirus.
"However, the same prevention-focused logic the Governor employed when ordering people to socially distance, work from home, and not gather in groups of more than ten, must also apply to corrections personnel and inmates in prisons and jails,” Mosby said. "The broader community is under threat and a more comprehensive strategy is needed to protect the lives of our community at large.”
As of Monday, the state has at least 288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three people have died.
Beyond his comment Thursday, Hogan has not responded to any of the calls for release or unveiled any measures to release lower risk prisoners from state facilities. Last week Mosby announced her office will stop prosecuting lower level offenses like drug possession and prostitution.
[ Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby to stop prosecuting drug possession, prostitution, other crimes amid coronavirus ]
Other prison systems have moved to reduce their populations to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus among inmates and staff. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said 23 inmates were set to be released Sunday and that 200 more were being reviewed for potential release, according to U.S. News and World Report.
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Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3 which represents some prison employees, said inmates at Maryland’s prisons are still being fed in large groups inside a dining hall.
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The ACLU, Maryland Public Defender’s Office and a number of advocacy groups sent the governor a letter last Wednesday asking for similar measures.
Melissa Rothstein, spokeswoman for the state’s Public Defender’s Office, wrote in an email Monday that “there are more than 1,100 inmates over the age of 60 who are currently eligible for parole.”
“The Governor and Parole Commission can, and should, use their authorize [authority] to provide for their immediate release,” Rothstein wrote. “The Parole Commission can also expedite release for people whose sentences will soon expire, and the Governor can use his clemency power to protect vulnerable inmates.”
In addition to releasing prisoners, the group also asked the state to take additional steps to regulate Maryland’s prison facilities, including, providing sanitizing wipes at phone stations to reduce person-to-person transmission.
The group said inmates should, when feasible, be provided “30-day supplies of medications to reduce contact and staff workload.”
It also petitioned for lower density in prison yards, more access to showers for prisoners and that inmates who are “deemed medically high risk” be placed in single cells.