New Decarceral guidelines announced in light of COVID-19 spread
Baltimore (March 18, 2020) - Today, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby sent a letter to Governor Larry Hogan urging him to take Emergency action to close Courthouses throughout the State, and to develop decarceral guidelines for the state’s prisons and jails. In the letter, SA Mosby offers her full support for the Governor and states that “with so many lives on the line, there are steps the Governor’s office can take to mitigate the spread of the virus behind prison walls.”
An outbreak in prison or jails could potentially be catastrophic. Just last week, experts reported that “Maryland jails are incubators for the coronavirus and precautions must be taken to avoid an outbreak”. According to the Center for Disease Control, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are more susceptible to falling severely ill with COVID-19. Regardless of age and medical condition, anyone can be a carrier of this virus.
Human Rights Watch has called for urgent action to protect people in prison and jail. Prosecutors inSan Francisco, Philadelphia, and elsewhere are all taking steps to keep at-risk individuals out of jail. Low-level offenders in Ohio are being released too, and authorities in Texas have asked police not to bring petty criminals to jail. Furthermore, SA Mosby and 30 prosecutors signed a letter today advocating for measures that decrease the number of incarcerated people and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
SA Mosby has announced new decarceral policies to be enacted by her office as part of the office’s commitment to preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“As prosecutors, we are committed to protecting the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community, and that includes people who are currently in prison or jail. I firmly believe that we can promote public health and public safety at the same time, and that’s what these new policies will achieve.”
The SAO has spent the past week advocating with the bench to minimize the presence of people in court and decrease potential exposure to this exceptional virus. And while the Office has been somewhat successful in convincing the court to decrease the number of hearings held and prohibiting the public from the Courthouse, which includes our victims and witnesses, we have not yet succeeded in convincing them to close down reception court altogether. The Office is today calling on Governor Hogan to take Emergency action to close Courthouses throughout the State, with the exception of Emergency hearings. The Courts are currently operating in a manner that is inconsistent with his directives to other State agencies and contrary to Federal guidance, unnecessarily putting people’s lives at risk.
The SAO has already been in contact with the Office of the Public Defender about working to release certain individuals from prison; however, now is not the time for a piecemeal approach where we go into court and argue one by one for the release of at-risk individuals. Decisive action is needed and it can only be taken by the Executive branch. Decarceral guidelines set by the Governor are essential.
Additionally, SA Mosby has instructed prosecutors in Central Booking during this chaotic time to immediately dismiss any charges and release individuals arrested for the following offenses, which are nonviolent, pose no threat to public safety, and would likely result in pre-trial release:
•CDS (drug) possession
•Minor traffic offenses
•Attempted distribution of drugs
•Rogue and vagabond
•Urinating/defecating in public
Finally, this week SA Mosby joined 30 other prosecutors on a statement calling for dramatic reductions in incarcerated and detained populations in response to coronavirus. The latest policy changes in response to COVID-19 are part of SA Mosby’s broader criminal justice reform agenda, which have included declining to prosecute marijuana possession and exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals.