ACLU and Attorney General debate potential release of prison inmates to combat spread of COVID-19

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UPDATE: On Thursday April 8, the Indiana Supreme Court denied ACLU's petition. 

Original Story:

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The ACLU and the Indiana Attorney General are sparing over the potential release of prison inmates at risk from COVID-19.

Some county jails have already released hundreds of non-violent inmates in recent weeks. The ACLU is asking the Department of Corrections to look into similar steps statewide. That idea has drawn criticism from the state Attorney General.

The Indiana DOC houses nearly 27,000 inmates in 21 facilities. The DOC confirms 10 offenders have already tested positive for COVID-19.

The ACLU worries those numbers will continue to grow and has asked the Indiana Supreme Court to take emergency action to protect those behind bars.

"This is not a lawsuit where we're asking the court to find constitutional rights are violated. What we're saying is are there ways to make sure everyone's health can best be protected," said ACLU legal director Ken Falk.

Falk points out the DOC also employs more than 6,400 people and so far 17 of those staff members have also tested positive.

"We're not talking just about prisoners. We're talking about a health risk to all of us. So we're asking for common sense solutions that protect public safety," said Falk.

Attorney general Curtis Hill opposed the ACLU's request and insisted the DOC has remained vigilant protecting inmates and following CDC guidelines.

"Thus far, there's no indication of any emergency issue that the DOC can't handle," said Curtis Hill.

A plan drawn up last month by the DOC details increased monitoring and sanitation inside of prisons, as well as the suspension of all visitation and isolation of offenders who show symptoms of illness.

"Everything that should be done is being done to protect inmates safety," said Hill.

So far the DOC has already compiled data on inmates that are older, close to release and not convicted of a violent crimes for 7 different counties. The DOC hasn't announced whether any of those inmates have had their sentences amended.

None of the positive cases the DOC has seen so far has been serious enough to warrant hospitalization.

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