Baltimore to stop prosecuting some nonviolent charges amid coronavirus outbreak
The city of Baltimore will stop prosecuting some nonviolent charges, including drug possession, trespassing, prostitution, attempted distribution and violating open-container laws, amid the coronavirus pandemic, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Wednesday.
“An outbreak in prison or jails could potentially be catastrophic,” Mosby wrote in a memo to prosecutors, The Baltimore Sun reported. “Now is not the time for a piecemeal approach where we go into court and argue one by one for the release of at-risk individuals.”
Mosby said the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in prisons or jails was not worth prosecuting crimes that pose no risk to public safety and for defendants who would normally be released pending trial.
Mosby also asked Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to free any inmates over the age of 60 in state prisons as well as any inmates who have already been approved for parole or are scheduled to finish their sentences in the next year, the Sun reported.
“Jails and prisons cycle large numbers of people in and out of close, unsanitary quarters on a daily basis,” Mosby wrote. “If these facilities become breeding grounds for the coronavirus, it will not only impact those incarcerated, but our entire communities.”
“We are grateful that our criminal justice partners recognized these concerns and collaborated to reduce the jail population and save the lives of our most vulnerable clients,” Kirsten Gettys Downs, the district public defender for Baltimore, told the newspaper in an email. “Ongoing detention during this public health crisis threatens the lives of our clients and creates conditions that will exacerbate the spread of this pandemic.”
Maryland’s state health department had confirmed 85 coronavirus cases in the state as of Wednesday. The potential spread of the virus through prisons is an increasing concern nationwide, with New York’s Department of Corrections confirming Tuesday that an employee at Sing Sing prison had tested positive for the virus.
The announcement in Baltimore comes one day after the Philadelphia Police Department instructed its offices to temporarily stop making arrests for certain nonviolent crimes such as theft, drug offenses and prostitution amid the coronavirus pandemic.