Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) quietly signed an executive order on Saturday allowing for the potential release of hundreds of inmates who are elderly or nearing release and not considered a public safety risk.
The executive order comes after weeks of agitating by lawmakers, civil rights groups and public defenders, and as the state Division of Public Safety and Correctional Services confirmed at least 136 COVID-19 cases connected to the department late last week.
Hogan’s order, signed Saturday and posted to the governor’s website on Sunday, would accelerate release for people already scheduled to go home within the next four months, prioritize release for elderly inmates and prompt immediate consideration of release to home detention for inmates eligible for that program.
“It is in the public interest to prevent inmates’ exposure to the novel coronavirus by expeditiously moving them to alternative places of confinement, such as in supervised community placement or their homes,” Hogan’s executive order states.
Inmates aren’t eligible for early release under the order if they were convicted of a sexual offense.
Before an inmate is deemed eligible for early release to parole or probation, state officials must consider input from prosecutors or victims, as well as inmates’ ages, medical conditions and special needs, according to the order.
Inmates released on early mandatory supervision will receive an identification card from the Division of Correction and help applying for medical benefits.
Any inmates with symptoms of COVID-19 will not be eligible for early release and will be placed in quarantine, under the terms of the order.
For those who are released, self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days is required upon release.
As of Thursday, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services reported 136 cases of COVID-19 across the department, with more than half of the confirmed cases being correctional officers. One state inmate, who was being held at Jessup Correctional Institution, has died of the virus.
The state has taken other efforts to reduce inmate populations, though advocates have criticized the pace of response in comparison to other state policies.
Hogan’s order will remain in effect until the state of emergency is lifted.
In a statement, Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which has pressed the state to begin releasing non-violent inmates, hailed the governor’s decision.
“This is a hard-won victory for the families, public health experts, advocates, and law enforcement officials who have been urging the Governor to reduce the number of people in detention since the earliest days of COVID-19,” she said. “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 she hoped the order would be extended “to include the many others who can safely be released from among the thousands of medically vulnerable Marylanders in our places of detention.”