Inmates to be freed over coronavirus fears in Massachusetts jails, prisons


BOSTON (WWLP) – The state’s highest court on Friday ruled in favor of an emergency petition which sought the immediate release of thousands of inmates who are either being held on bail or sentenced due to COVID-19 concerns in jails and prisons, according to the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office.

In a news release to 22News on Friday, DA spokesman Jim Leydon said Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank Gaziano, in his written decision, acknowledged the urgency of the threat on the incarcerated population but accepts arguments from seven district attorneys across the state including Hampden County DA Anthony Gulluni and Worcester County DA Joseph Early. 

We are very appreciative of today’s decision by the Supreme Judicial Court. The Court’s decision contemplates the seriousness of this crisis for all involved, including victims of crime, our communities, and the health of inmates across the Commonwealth. This decision will allow us to continue thoughtful and careful individual reviews of detainees that has and will continue to reduce inmate populations, without jeopardizing victims of crime or our citizens across the Commonwealth.

Hampden County District Attorney, Anthony D. Gulluni

The emergency petition was filed by the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. In regards to the sentenced inmates, the court decided that “the Separations of Powers limits its authority and, consequently, the decision maintains the executive branch’s authority over those individuals.”

The court also decided that pre-trial detainees, especially those with health or age factors that put them at higher risk, should be considered for release on an individual and expedited basis at hearings in the Trial Court.

Pre-trial detainees who committed non-serious and non-violent crimes will be ordered released unless it is established that their release would result in an unreasonable danger or very high risk of flight. Inmates facing violent crimes, rape and assault will not be eligible for release.

The Court said the system should try to reduce the numbers of detainees in light of COVID-19, but that it should be done with consideration of public safety, victims’ rights, and the challenges inmates will face upon release. 

The of inmates could be released and back on the street as early as next week.

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