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Crime Coronavirus: ACLU of Mass., CPCS and defense lawyers ask SJC to release defendants held pretrial in effort to curb COVID-19 outbreaks

15:27  25 march  2020
15:27  25 march  2020 Source:   masslive.com

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lawyers ask SJC to release defendants held pretrial in effort to curb COVID - 19 outbreaks . The ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts on behalf of CPCS and MACDL, with the ACLU serving as counsel to MACDL, asking the court to

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The ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on Tuesday have asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to limit outbreaks of COVID-19 behind bars by reducing the number of people in jails, prisons, and houses of correction.

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An emergency petition was filed on behalf of CPCS and MACDL, with the ACLU serving as counsel to MACDL, asking the court to immediately limit the number of people taken into custody, release people held on pretrial detention and release people held on certain sentences.

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“Public health experts recognize that there is a heightened risk of infection for people in prisons and jails,” said Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Downsizing the footprint of the criminal legal system is a matter of life and death, and it should be a part of the COVID-19 public health response. This petition explains that the Supreme Judicial Court has and should exercise the power to do precisely that, in order to ensure the well-being and safety of incarcerated people, medical staff, and correctional officers.”

In the petition, the groups ask the SJC to:

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Due to the confirmed case of # COVID ー 19 from community spread, SLCPD is asking all criminal activities/nefarious behavior to cease until further notice. We appreciate your anticipated cooperation in halting crime & thank criminals in advance.

Reduce the volume of people entering Massachusetts jails and prisons by, among other steps, requiring trial courts to account for the threat of COVID-19 in jails and prisons when they analyze the need for pretrial detention;

Order the release of those held prior to the disposition of their case who are not detained because they pose a danger to public safety; and

Deem served the sentences of incarcerated individuals who are vulnerable to COVID-19, near the end of their sentence, or who do not pose a threat to the public, and release on parole those eligible for parole (including medical parole).

“Protection is now needed for the roughly 16,500 vulnerable people incarcerated in Massachusetts,” the petition reads. “Correctional facilities, where physical distancing and vigilant hygiene are impossible, can be petri dishes for the rapid spread of infectious disease.”

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Law enforcement officials and defense attorneys in Maryland, the District and throughout the country are taking steps to release inmates, drop pending prosecutions and lock up fewer new defendants to thin crowded prisons that public health officials say are ripe for spreading the coronavirus .

Coronavirus Disease 2019 ( COVID - 19 ) is most often spread from person to person among close contacts (about 6 feet). COVID - 19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States.

At the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, three inmates and one correction officer have tested positive for COVID-19.

The petition notes that the state’s trial court system and the state SJC have started to limit activity in courts, for example suspending trials.

“There are hundreds of vulnerable people behind bars who are no danger to society. Every day they remain locked up is another day they are serving a sentence they were not given–a punishment that forces them to potentially live in close quarters with a deadly, highly contagious virus,” said Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for CPCS. “Public defenders across the state have been filing motions asking for our clients to be released, and while the Courts and other stakeholders have been working hard to do what they can to make progress, we need immediate, system-wide action if we want to prevent an unconstitutional catastrophe.”

The petition follows an ACLU of Massachusetts letter to public officials that advocated for urgent measures to protect those involved in the criminal legal system.

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"Any man or woman who does not pose an immediate threat to the community ought to be immediately released from our jails and prisons, whether they are held pretrial or post-conviction,” said Victoria Kelleher, president of MACDL. "Without the relief we seek, they will not only be endangered by the rapid spread of COVID-19 within these facilities, but so will their attorneys, the correctional staff, and their families. This virus is highly contagious, non-discriminating, and lethal. The Court and the legal community have an obligation to act quickly to stop the spread.”

The groups say that at least eight state and local court systems, including Alabama, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and the District of Columbia, have already taken steps to limit incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Harris County to release about 1,000 'non-violent' inmates, calling jail a 'ticking time bomb' .
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