A coalition of advocacy groups, public defenders and concerned individuals is calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to “take immediate steps to avoid a public health crisis in Maryland’s jails and prisons” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to Hogan on Wednesday, the coalition members called on the governor to immediately release people in jails and prisons whom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified as more vulnerable to the coronavirus, as well as people who are currently in pre-trial detention or serving sentences that will expire soon.
The coalition also asked Hogan to limit new admissions to correctional facilities, avoid incarceration for technical or minor violations by authorizing parole and probation, and ensure that people in prisons have access to basic necessities such as soap, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
The letter was signed by the ACLU of Maryland, Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign, Out for Justice Inc., Maryland Office of the Public Defender and Maryland Prisoners’ Rights Coalition, as well as 11 individuals.
In the letter, the coalition said circumstances within these facilities make inmates more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.
“Persons confined in prisons and jails are uniquely vulnerable to the coronavirus because of the inability to practice social distancing, lack of adequate sanitation, and the constant influx of new people from outside,” the coalition writes.
Older inmates and those with underlying medical conditions are high-risk populations for the coronavirus, and yet “the lack of adequate medical care in such facilities creates the perfect storm for harm when the virus enters them,” the coalition said.
Hogan suspended visitation at all Maryland state prisons last Thursday to protect employees, inmates, detainees and their families from the coronavirus.
But other than that, the coaliton said Hogan’s administration has not done enough to address the spread of the coronavirus in prisons and jails, the coaltion wrote.
The coalition said state’s attorneys offices should dismiss charges for people in high-risk populations and those with lesser offenses and release those individuals–with the option to refile the charges at a later date–to avoid “needless pretrial incarceration.”
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Wednesday reportedly said her office would be dropping any pending criminal charges related to drug possession, attempted distribution, prostitution, trespassing, minor traffic offenses, open container and urinating in public.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Mosby said she is taking the action to “reduce the threat of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars.”
Mosby also sent a letter to Hogan urging him to free all inmates older than 60 years old in state prisons, anyone who has been approved for parole and prisoners scheduled to complete their sentence within the next year, The Sun reported.
The coalition’s letter also proposes that law enforcement agencies should cease arrests for minor offenses or issue citations in lieu of those arrests so people can return home. Meanwhile, courts should indicate hearings that can result in someone’s release from prison or jail, such as bail reviews or sentence modifications, as “emergency proceedings” requiring a hearing.
The coalition requests that people on probation or parole be allowed to check in via voice or video call, rather than in person to maintain social distancing.
The coalition members are calling for jails and prisons to make soap, hand
sanitizer, tissues and other hygiene and cleaning supplies “freely available to all people in the facility, even if this requires suspending prohibitions on alcohol to accommodate hand sanitizer distribution.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.