Criminal justice reform advocates in Maryland continue to push Gov. Larry Hogan to release more inmates to combat the coronavirus pandemic, especially those 60 and older or with underlying health conditions.
The state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections Services announced last week an inmate in his 60s died April 27 after he contracted the coronavirus before being hospitalized April 13. He was the second inmate who died due to the virus.
The House Judiciary Committee will hold a virtual briefing at 9 a.m. Thursday, May 7 to discuss how state prison officials are handling COVID-19 among the state’s 17 facilities. Robert Green, secretary for the state department of corrections, has been scheduled to participate in the discussion.
“Part of the reason why we are doing this briefing is because of the concerns that we have heard with regards to our state correctional facilities,” said Del. Nicole A. Williams (D-District 22) of Greenbelt. “The concern about workers not receiving proper protective equipment when they are coming into work. Not testing and screening employees. There needs to be an extra concerted effort to make sure the inmates are separated from one another. Hopefully [Green] will be able to give us an update about some additional measures [officials] have taken.”
Hogan issued an executive order last month for prison officials to release hundreds of nonviolent offenders to combat COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Although the state released about 2,000 inmates who were within several months of a release date, 60 and older or nonviolent offenders, advocates argue that others should be also considered for release.
One such person is Eraina Pretty, the state’s longest-incarcerated woman. The Baltimore Sun reported Friday, May 1 that Pretty contracted the virus and fits the age criteria and health challenges.
Pretty, who grew up in Baltimore, has been at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup for 42 of her 60 years after police charged her ex-boyfriend for armed robbery and murder. Pretty didn’t shoot or kill anyone, but authorities said she was involved in the crimes.
Even with the pressure for Hogan to release more inmates, he remains one of the most popular figures in the nation.
A joint survey called “The State of the Nation: A 50-state COVID-19 Survey” released Thursday, April 30 shows 80 percent of residents approve of how Hogan is handling the coronavirus crisis, tied for the third-highest such approval rate in the nation with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.
The survey conducted by researchers at Harvard, Northeastern and Rutgers universities shows at least 87 percent of Maryland respondents somewhat or strongly approve of government restrictions to combat the coronavirus, including stay-at-home orders, limiting restaurants to carryout service and restricting domestic and international travel.
The survey conducted April 17-26 with nearly 23,000 respondents happened before several church leaders, state lawmakers and business owners filed a lawsuit Saturday, May 2 claiming Hogan’s executive orders infringe on their constitutional rights.
Three Republican delegates — Dan Cox, Warren Miller and Neil Parrott — are part of the complaint, as are two military veterans who say wearing masks reminds them of the battlefield in Iraq.
Antietam Battlefield Kampgrounds of America in Washington County’s Williamsport continues to lose $50,000 a month in revenue, according to the suit.
Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s, Maryland, said Hogan remains on the side of public health versus the economy. In addition, he said, Hogan continues to repeat the state must show a two-week downward trend on hospitalizations and deaths before reopening, similar to statements made on the federal level by President Donald Trump.
“It seems to be action driven by science and an abundance of caution,” he said. “If [Hogan] feels any pressure to get things back open, he’s not showing it. He appears to be very confident in the path he’s chosen.”
Nevertheless, criminal justice advocates continue to push for the release of those incarcerated.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby held a virtual “Court in the Community” Thursday to discuss how the pandemic has affected the criminal justice system.
Mosby was one of the first public officials requesting Hogan to reduce the jail and prison population more than a month ago.
The more than one-hour session summarized the need to release older adults and people with underlying conditions.
Nicole Hanson Mundell, executive director for Out for Justice in Baltimore, said policies also affect those incarcerated. For instance, she said the governor’s order excludes people charged with violence offenses who’ve served between 10 to 20 years.
“These are the individuals who are less likely to re-offend because they just grow out of criminal behavior,” she said. “These are the very individuals who will have to stay behind those walls. That is a crisis in itself.”