As coronavirus cases surge across Massachusetts and infections rise in state jails and prisons, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, District Attorney Rachael Rollins and advocates on Tuesday called for Gov. Charlie Baker to release inmates.
Pressley, Rollins, public health experts and activists are citing the recent outbreaks at Bay State jails and prisons — including at MCI-Norfolk, where cases are spiking.
More than 140 people have been infected there, and at least 300 tests are still pending.
“As Governor, you have significant authority to limit the deadly spread of COVID-19 and reduce the prison population before it is too late,” Pressley and Rollins wrote in the letter to Baker on Tuesday.
“It is absolutely critical that your administration listens to the guidance of public health experts and does all that it can to immediately decarcerate older individuals, individuals with preexisting medical conditions, juveniles, pregnant individuals, and those with less than a year remaining on their sentence,” they added.
Ten people in Massachusetts jails and prisons have died from the virus and more than 1,000 people have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic.
The ACLU of Massachusetts and other groups have filed several legal actions, and have urged Baker to decrease the number of people who are currently incarcerated.
“Let’s be clear: Ending mass incarceration is a matter of life and death,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Governor Baker must do everything in his power to ensure that prison sentences do not become de facto death sentences as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.”
The Massachusetts Parole Board has released more than 1,400 inmates on parole permits over the past seven months.
Baker at his Tuesday press conference noted the “very big number” of inmates who have been paroled since March. He said state jails and prisons have “done a really good job of managing COVID.”
“They’ve done a terrific job of keeping prisoners and inmates separated, providing them with PPE, sanitization, all that sort of stuff, instructions and guidance about how to avoid spreading the virus, and the numbers have shown it,” Baker said.
He added, “And when they had an outbreak at Norfolk, they moved aggressively to test everybody who is an inmate in the facility, everybody who worked in the facility, and if you weren’t willing to get tested as somebody who worked in the facility, you didn’t get to come back to the facility. They’ve done a good job with this stuff.”
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