Lancaster County officials are looking at the possibility of releasing some prisoners from the county jail to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
No prisoners — there are more than 700 — are known to have the disease and no inmate has been released yet. But county officials are making preparations, mirroring efforts across the country as the virus is expected to spread.
Given prisons’ confined space and communal dining, corrections and health officials say the virus could easily spread.
“The goal is to limit exposure to those who remain incarcerated and minimize risk to those who are vulnerable as much as possible while still maintaining the highest level of protection to the community,” President Judge David Ashworth said in an email Friday.
Steps would include supervision with parole and probation, house arrest and electronic and alcohol monitoring, he said. Also, visits have been suspended.
District Attorney Heather Adams said her office on Thursday began reviewing inmates for potential release.
“Our reviews consider the nature and community impact of charges involved, the inmate’s circumstances – to include their age, medical status, scheduled parole date, re-entry plan – as well as input from victims,” she said in an email, adding public safety is the primary concern.
Ultimately, a judge will have to decide if an inmate is released, she noted.
At the state level, the ACLU and other prisoner’ rights advocates have called on Gov. Tom Wolf to release high-risk inmates.
The state prison system houses 45,588 including 1,810 committed from Lancaster County, inmates at 24 prisons across the state, according to state Department of Corrections data. The system also has 15,000 staff, including 9,500 guards and about 900 direct care medical staff.
No one has tested positive for coronavirus, a corrections spokeswoman said Thursday. Inmate visits were suspended on March 13.
The Wolf administration did not respond to requests seeking comment about the prisoner rights groups’ request.
Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, a victim rights group, criticized the idea of releasing prisoners.
“These prisoners which the ACLU want released did not all commit victimless crimes,” said Jennifer Riley, the organization’s state director. “At the same time that the ACLU is pushing for a mass release of prisoners, including rapists and murderers, it is also blocking Marsy’s Law, which provides basic constitutional rights to victims and their families — including notice before an assailant or criminal is released from prison — from going in to effect.”