State leaders urge release of low-risk inmates, non-violent juveniles

Leaders of all three branches of state government issued a joint letter Friday providing local communities guidance in releasing those detained in jails, correctional facilities and juvenile detention in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“We encourage every community that is or will be undertaking a process to evaluate whether to release juveniles and inmates, to do so in a responsible and humane manner,” read the letter to local criminal justice leaders signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, Gov. Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston.

The letter comes as more than 100 people in Indiana have died as a result of COVID-19 and more than 3,400 people have tested positive. Health officials said yesterday that an undisclosed number of correctional facilities and at least 29 nursing homes have had reported cases.

“With inmates, juveniles, staff, and service providers living and working in confined spaces, there is enhanced potential for COVID-19 to enter a facility and spread. This potential, however, can be mitigated and reduced through implementation of aggressive proactive measures such as those taken at state correctional facilities,” the letter says. This DOC website explains its COVID-19 response.

“But at the local and county level, while Indiana’s sheriffs have a duty to provide medical care to those in their custody, the resources and ability to treat and quarantine infected individuals are often limited and more difficult.

“In light of the above, the undersigned representatives of all three branches of Indiana government recognize that these types of decisions will continue to and must be made by local judges, sheriffs, and county leaders across our State as we continue to move through this public health emergency in the days and weeks ahead. Given the unique threat posed by COVID-19, we encourage every community that is or will be undertaking a process to evaluate whether to release juveniles and inmates, to do so in a responsible and humane manner. They should review the current facility population to properly identify which low-risk, non-violent juveniles and inmates, if any, may be re-evaluated and released safely into their communities under pretrial, probation, or community corrections supervision. This is not a question of being soft on crime or criminals, but rather it’s a matter of need in a time of a widespread public health emergency affecting our entire State, at the local level.”

The letter is also available on a state courts website providing details on the judiciary’s response to COVID-19.

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