KEY POINTS

  • COVID-19 prompts Maryland health officials to push releasing criminals
  • Prosecutor wants prisoners with less than 5 years of sentences released
  • Marilyn Mosby says let the women go

Although Maryland's prison population is its lowest in 30 years, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby wants at least 1,100 convicts released to check the spread of coronavirus. Her requests include preventing new prison admissions and paroling all women and low-risk prisoners with two years or less in their sentence for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Mosby joined health professionals, defense attorneys and others, including public defender Paul DeWolfe, ACLU Maryland Executive Director Dana Shelley, Health Care for the Homeless Executive Director Kevin Lindamood and several Johns Hopkins University professors, asked Gov. Larry Hogan to release all prisoners who are 60 years or older or are "immuno-comprimised" and have five years or less in their prison sentence in a March 23 letter.

Mosby ordered her staff last week to dismiss pending criminal charges against anyone arrested for possessing drugs including heroin, attempted distribution of any drug, prostitution, trespassing, minor traffic offenses, open container and urinating in public. Mosby said she took the action to reduce the threat of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars and protect her staff.

Other cities have taken similar actions, including Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York City and Philadelphia, according to the letter. In Maryland, Baltimore and Prince George’s counties, officials are reviewing cases and planning to release people held on nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, misdemeanor theft and disorderly conduct.

Mosby and Baltimore City Police have viewed each other suspectly since she was elected in 2015. Many police groups nationwide are against the proposals she is pushing. “The idea of releasing individuals, who by definition are not safe to be among the public, in the name of improving public welfare is nonsensical,” executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations William Johnson said about the moves.

Supporters of inmate releases during this virus outbreak argue the potential spread of the virus within jails is a more significant threat than the crimes these released inmates would pose in the streets.