BALTIMORE — Gov. Larry Hogan should act to ensure that state and local agencies heed public health experts’ advice and take immediate steps to avoid a public health crisis in Maryland’s jails and prisons, wrote a coalition of groups and concerned individuals in a letter to the Governor today. In the letter, the coalition asks the Governor to take steps to ensure that system actors are responding to recommendations put forth by public health experts, specifically calling for limits on new admissions to jails and prison; the immediate release of people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as vulnerable, as well as those currently in pretrial detention or with sentences that soon expire; and transparent and robust plans to ensure that people who remain in places of detention have access to basic necessities like soap, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to prevent a public health crisis.

In the letter, the Coalition asks Governor Hogan for an Executive Order that includes the following urgent and necessary steps: 

  • Unequivocally rejects baseless claims that people are safer in jails and prisons than in the community.
  • Urges all law enforcement and correctional agencies, state’s attorneys and members of the judiciary to take every step possible to avoid adding to the number of people incarcerated in any kind of detention and to expedite any steps to reduce the number of people, particularly those at risk of serious illness or death if they contract the virus.
  • Orders the Maryland Parole Commission to expedite and expand release opportunities for those whose sentence will soon expire, those deemed able to safely return to the community, those serving short sentences, and those at greatest risk of serious illness.
  • Authorizes Parole & Probation to limit required in-person contact and avoid incarceration for technical or minor violations.
  • Utilizes the Governor’s clemency authority to release geriatric and other particularly vulnerable prisoners who present little to no risk to public safety and those slated to be released within two years.
  • Requires every place of detention, whether operated by the State or not, and including those housing federal detainees to develop and implement health and safety plans and procedures ensuring that both detainees and staff have access to free cleaning supplies; that screening and medical care for those in custody; that people can communicate freely with the outside world; and do not rely on lengthy lockdowns. 
  • Orders the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Department of Juvenile Services to take additional steps to provide greater transparency.

“Marylanders who are in detention have little to no control over who they are exposed to, the sanitation of their surroundings or access to medical care,” said Sonia Kumar, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “It is in our collective interest to avoid the perfect storm for harm when the virus enters prisons and jails. Just as there are people particularly vulnerable to serious risk of harm from COVID-19 in the community, we have vulnerable people in our prisons and jails. We must protect them.”

Public health experts and groups such as Dr. Gregg Gonsalves, doctors working in New York City Hospitals, Dr. Marc Stern, Dr. Oluwadamilola T. Oladeru and Adam Beckman, Dr. Anne Spaulding, Homer Venters, and Josiah Rich have all clearly stated that preventing the harm inflicted by SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 can become immensely more difficult for people involved in the criminal legal system. By following the recommendations outlined in the coalition’s letter, state and local officials can create a culture in which transparency, safety, and the health of all people is the paramount concern.

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