Suffolk DA Plans to Release Low-Risk Prisoners Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Rachael Rollins said she is working on a plan to release inmates who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19

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Suffolk County's top prosecutor says she is working to make sure that prisoners who pose a low risk to the public and are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus are released from custody.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins announced Thursday that she is working on a plan to make sure that inmates who do not pose a "meaningful risk' to public safety can be released if they are vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their health, age, socio-economic status or other circumstances.

"While Americans across the country are being encouraged to self-isolate, members of our incarcerated population are, by definition, doing the exact opposite with no alternative options," Rollins' office said in a statement. "We need to seriously consider pathways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for our incarcerated populations, the overwhelming majority of which will return to our communities at some point in the future."

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announces that early education centers and family child care providers will be closing Monday, March 23, but noted that emergency facilities would be opening for families of people on the front lines of the outbreak, plus certain others.

The ACLU of Massachusetts issued a statement Thursday applauding Rollins' efforts.

"Our organization has called on public officials to immediately extend public health protections to people involved in the criminal legal system—and we are pleased that District Attorney Rollins heeded that call," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "It is essential that all government officials follow public health experts' recommendations to help ensure a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all people. In order to protect the welfare of an especially vulnerable population, all aspects of the criminal legal system—from policing and pretrial through sentencing, confinement, and release—must be modified to combat this public health crisis."

Family and friend visits have been suspended at Massachusetts Department of Correction facilities as the agency tries to protect inmates amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Rollins had already been taking steps to avoid spreading the coronavirus. That included having prosecutors request 60-day continuances in cases in which the suspect is not in custody and eliminating or rescheduling pre-trial hearings for inmates who are already in custody to avoid transporting them to court.

Her office said Thursday that with any new offenses, the presumption is no bail will be requested. Those charged prior to trial will be released on personal recognizance.

"Now more than ever, if we are going to ask the Court to detain someone pre-trial on a cash bail, we will do so only after critically weighing any public health risk against our legitimate concerns for public safety," the district attorney's statement said.

We are giving you a daily update on what you need to know about COVID-19, what is happening around the pandemic and the many good deeds done during this crisis.

Health officials in Massachusetts said Wednesday that there are now 256 cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Massachusetts is one of the states in the U.S. with the most coronavirus cases in the country so far. While no one has died from the virus locally, more than 100 people have died nationwide.

Severe restrictions to daily life have been ordered, including canceled school, limits to gathering in groups and eating in restaurants, as the state fights to mitigate the spread of the deadly pandemic.

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