The action, which was suggested by the state’s corrections secretary, Robert L. Green, comes as Maryland is facing a two-week-plus stretch of record-setting numbers of new coronavirus cases, and as the governor takes additional steps to stem the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, Hogan (R) announced tighter restrictions on dining and visits to hospitals and nursing homes, including requiring bars and restaurants to stop dine-in service at 10 p.m. He also put a 50 percent capacity limit on religious facilities, fitness centers and a host of other public places.
Under the early-release order, corrections officials are allowed to move more quickly on parole and home-detention decisions, granting release to those who are scheduled to be released within 120 days of the order and those who are “otherwise eligible for home detention.”
The Parole Commission can accelerate parole for inmates who are at least 60 years old and have a good record and an approved home plan. Medical conditions, pregnancy and special needs will also be taken into account for early release under parole and home detention.
Sex offenders and those convicted of violent crimes are not eligible.
“To mitigate the effects of the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public health, welfare, and safety, especially of vulnerable workers or incarcerated persons at Maryland prisons, it is necessary and reasonable to implement protocols and procedures for transfer out of the State’s correctional institutions,” the order reads.
Prisoners would be tested before they are released.
Hogan issued a similar order in April at the height of Maryland’s first wave of coronavirus infections. The decision was made under pressure. For weeks, as coronavirus cases climbed, advocates pushed for a reduction in the detention population. Hogan initially said prisoners were “safer where they are” but backed away from that position a month later.
As of Monday, 1,199 inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus since March. Thirteen have died. A total of 857 employees had tested positive for the virus and two had died, according to state data.
A spokesman for the corrections department did not immediately respond to a request for information about new cases reported in recent weeks and whether state prisons are seeing an uptick.
Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said she was disheartened to see that the order does not prioritize “those vulnerable for medical reasons.”
“It is unacceptable that during the Covid-19 pandemic Governor Hogan has refused to order faster consideration of or release of people who are at greatest risk of harm,” she said in a statement.