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OPD seeks release of select inmates to slow virus spread

“In this case, it was the actions of other officers who were on the scene that evening that led us to this day, to this day of justice," says Prince George's State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender is pushing for the release of certain inmates from detention centers to reduce the threat of the COVID-19 virus spreading in those populations.

Maryland Deputy Public Defender Becky Feldman said Tuesday that her office has been working since last week with State’s Attorneys Marilyn Mosby and Aisha Braveboy on the release of some inmates being held pretrial on charges of committing low-level, nonviolent crimes in detention centers in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

“It’s not like there are open windows and free-flowing air; these are people stuck in close quarters in cages,” Feldman said. “I think we’re on a really good path in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County to getting a fair number of people who are low-risk to the community released.”

Feldman wouldn’t say how long it would take before inmates could be released, but she said that Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore city, was “definitely” onboard with the idea. A call to Mosby’s office was not returned by press time Tuesday.

In a statement, Braveboy, the Prince George’s County state’s attorney, said: “The jail is a place that could present a breeding ground and further prolong this crisis. Therefore, my office is working with the public defender’s office to review release conditions for inmates. … Our goal is to safely and judiciously reduce the inmate population considering the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus.”

Feldman said her office has divided its efforts between detention centers, which are overseen by the state’s attorneys’ offices, and the state’s prisons, which could see inmates released only if Gov. Larry Hogan approved the measure.

Right now, Feldman said, her office’s primary focus is on securing the release of detention center inmates held pretrial on charges of committing nonviolent crimes, as well as releasing people held in detention centers who are over 60 years old. Reports indicate that older people have a higher chance of dying from the disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus.

Feldman said that inmates who were released could either receive a reduced sentence, such as probation as a replacement for jail time, or have their charges dropped.

Feldman said it’s important to consider the health of inmates and the threat that COVID-19 poses in densely populated areas like detention centers.

“We’re concerned about people who would become seriously sick or die if they contracted the disease,” she said. “Reducing the population in general would just help that environment so it’s not so overcrowded.”

A tweet from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender said the state “needs to address the crisis with its prison and jail population.”

Some facilities elsewhere, such as the Cuyahoga County Jail in Ohio, have already released hundreds of inmates due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, according to news reports.

Feldman acknowledged that it would be difficult to persuade the governor to release prison inmates convicted of committing violent or otherwise serious crimes.