Last week Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) issued a temporary moratorium on prison visits in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prisoners’ rights advocates say it isn’t enough.
The Office of the Public Defender, the ACLU of Maryland and other organizations penned a letter to Hogan Wednesday imploring him to act post-haste to lessen the spread of COVID-19 to Maryland inmates and corrections employees.
“It is widely acknowledged among public health experts that people in prisons and jails are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus, and yet least able to protect themselves without state action,” they wrote, citing the state’s prison populations’ inability to practice social distancing and prisons’ limited sanitation measures.
The collective put forward several proposals in hope that the governor will issue an executive order, including asking the state’s parole commission to hasten release dates and that facilities create publicly available COVID-19 emergency response plans in conjunction with their local health departments.
They asked that officials outside prisons also take preventative steps, requesting that courts prioritize bail review hearings as emergency proceedings and recommending that State’s Attorneys drop charges for “lesser offenses.”
The day the letter circulated, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D) circulated a news release directing city prosecutors to dismiss charges and release people held for nonviolent offenses such as minor traffic violations and drug possession and distribution.
Prisoners’ rights advocates also have called for Hogan to reject publicly the notion that individuals will be safer from the virus behind prison walls.
The letter states that prosecutors are using Hogan’s silence on the issue as an argument for continued confinement of pre-trial defendants. Further, their letter notes that public health officials have said close-quarters detention can amplify the virus’ spread.
“Just as is the case in the non-incarcerated community, every moment and every opportunity to avoid the spread of the virus, and to mitigate the risks it poses to the most vulnerable, is critical,” they wrote.