ACLU calls for release of prisoners at 'heightened risk' from virus

Published: Mar. 18, 2020 at 3:08 PM EDT
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Vermont corrections officials say they have taken a number of steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the state's prison population, but the ACLU is calling for more drastic action including the release of some offenders.

Vermont Human Services Commissioner Mike Smith said Wednesday that they are making sure new inmates do not have the virus and they are working on plans to segregate prisoners into smaller groups and other social-distancing best practices.

"We are being pretty stringent in making sure that those screening processes happening on entrance are really diligent as we move forward. We can not allow a case to come into the correctional facility," Smith said.

But he said that screening does not include testing for the virus unless otherwise warranted.

The ACLU of Vermont has called for doing even more. On Wednesday they urged the governor to release as many people from custody as possible, including elderly prisoners at heightened risk of harm. They also said police and prosecutors should limit new prison admissions. In a letter sent to the DOC they asked the state to "take steps to ensure the humanity, dignity, and health of those who remain in Vermont's prisons — as well as those incarcerated out of state."

The AP reports Coronavirus has become a “get out of jail" card for hundreds of low-level inmates across the country. Among those making pleas for release or home detention are the 81-year-old former head of the Cali drug cartel, Ponzi swindler Bernard Madoff, and President Donald Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen.