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State Prisons Report First COVID-19 Death

Rachel Baye / WYPR

An inmate at the state-run Jessup Correctional Institution has died as a result of COVID-19, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services confirmed Monday. 


The inmate, a man in his 60s with “serious underlying medical conditions” died Saturday after spending several weeks hospitalized. He was one of 93 people — including 18 inmates and 47 correctional officers — confirmed to have COVID-19 across the state prison system as of Sunday night. Jessup Correctional Institution alone has had 33 confirmed cases.


When an inmate tests positive for COVID-19, they are “monitored in isolation from the population for a minimum of 14 days,” the department described in a statement earlier this month. Inmates who have had direct contact with someone who tests positive are isolated and monitored. If they have symptoms, they are tested. 


Staff members who test positive are quarantined for at least two weeks and must be medically cleared before returning to work. Other staff who have come into contact with them are monitored if they are asymptomatic and told to stay home from work and contact their doctor if they have symptoms.


A coalition of advocates has been warning for weeks that state and local detention facilities are particularly vulnerable to an outbreak. They have been pushing the state to release inmates who are near the end of their sentences or who are at higher risk if they get the coronavirus because of their age or underlying health issues. The group, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, the state Office of the Public Defender and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, have also pushed for changes inside detention facilities, such as access to hand sanitizer and disinfectants that can be used to clean surfaces. 


In Baltimore, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in March that her office would stop prosecuting several nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession or trafficking, prostitution and trespassing, in an effort to reduce new admissions to local jails. She also sent her own letter to Gov. Larry Hogan advocating for changes at state prisons. 


But when asked about the issue, Hogan has repeatedly brushed off the idea of releasing inmates to prevent an outbreak. 

“The last thing we want to do is release people that are now kind-of in quarantine out onto the streets,” Hogan said at a press conference late last month. “It wouldn’t be safe for them. So it’s kind of the opposite of what we’re doing.”

Rachel Baye is a reporter for WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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