Md. prisons release new COVID-19 data, quietly free more than 2,000 inmates

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on Tuesday reported 152 known cases of COVID-19 across the department — 70% of confirmed infections are correctional officers.

This reflects an increase of 16 cases since the agency’s last report released Thursday.

The 152 confirmed cases of individuals who interact with the department include 107 correctional officers, 39 inmates and six department staff members.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was previously reporting confirmed cases in contract workers, but this data was not released Tuesday.

Infections are now being seen in 11 of 24 active correctional and detention facilities across Maryland. The highest rate of infection has consistently been seen at Jessup Correctional Institution, which has 42 confirmed cases and the only reported fatality.

Last week, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials reported that the first COVID-19 related death in their custody was an individual in his 60’s who was incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution. According to a news release he had “serious underlying medical conditions.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services revealed this week that it has been quietly releasing over 2,000 eligible incarcerated individuals over the past month.

“These releases were achieved by leveraging the acceleration and expansion of placements onto pretrial supervision; release during booking and pre-trial commitment; mandatory release of sentenced inmates; and accelerated processing of releases through the Parole Commission and Home Detention placement,” department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said in a statement.

Advocates have been pushing for weeks for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the courts to take action to slow the rate of infection and mortality in prisons across the state.

petition was filed on behalf of the Lifer Family Support Network in the Maryland Court of Appeals earlier this month, seeking the release of prisoners who are at the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19.

Last week, Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued instructive orders for state district and circuit court judges, urging them to consider releasing those populations and limit instances of pre-trial detention amid the pandemic.

Over the weekend, Hogan signed an executive order that permits the potential release of hundreds of inmates as the public health crisis continues to seep into Maryland correctional facilities.

Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, called the governor’s decision a “hard-won victory.”

“The public health experts have been clear: Any plan to effectively contain COVID-19 must include significant reductions in the number of people behind bars — for their safety and the safety of staff, their families, and for all of us,” Kumar said in a statement released Sunday. “We will be dealing with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future and we must be led by public health, not politics.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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