Local jail releasing inmates due to COVID-19; Marsy’s Law officials criticize decision

How do jails decide to release certain inmates during coronavirus outbreak?

PITTSBURGH — A spokesperson for the Allegheny County Jail sent Channel 11 a statement regarding the plan to release inmates:

"Staff in Criminal Court Administration, the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office are continually reviewing cases to determine which inmates are appropriate for release. Those cases are then addressed in Motions Court or reviewed with the assigned Judge depending on the circumstances. This review is not limited to just those inmates with health problems, although those cases are being considered first. The Public Defender’s Office is working to identify all non-violent inmates held only on cash bails.

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So far, 189 inmate releases have been sent to the jail. Releases are being processed by the jail as they are received, and the same process related to discharge and release followed as is done traditionally. This includes ensuring that inmates being released have access to a free phone call, free bus ticket, free Intranasal Narcan (Naloxone HCL) upon affirmative response at time of offer, packet of requested community resource information, letter of Incarceration Verification (upon request), and inmates are also encouraged to take a flyer or business card to reach the Discharge & Release Center for assistance with future needs.

This is an ongoing collaborative effort which includes the Judges, Court Administration, the Allegheny County Jail, the Public Defender, the District Attorney’s Office, Adult Probation, Pretrial Services, and the Private Bar. Emergency petitions can also be filed and are addressed by the court in Motions Court."

The group, Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, sharply criticized the ACLU advocating for the prisoner release. In a press release, the group said those people being released include rapists and murderers. Marsy’s Law said the ACLU is advocating for the mass prisoner release.

“These prisoners which the ACLU want released did not all commit victimless crimes,” said Jennifer Riley, State Director of Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania. “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.”

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