SJC urges Gov. Baker to release certain prisoners amid COVID-19 pandemic after denying stay requests

SJC urges Gov. Baker to release certain prisoners amid COVID-19 pandemic after denying stay requests

The state's highest court is urging Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to use his authorities to release prisoners because of COVID-19 concerns.

The SJC denied a second request, Tuesday, from attorneys to stay the sentences of non-violent offenders and those at the end of prison terms.

Ayana Aubourg and Sashi James from the advocacy group ‘Families for Justice as Healing’ say new COVID-19 safety measure means lockdown lasts 23-hours a day for their loved ones.

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“We’ve been applying so much pressure to Governor Baker and he’s just abandoned our people inside prison and therefore abandoning our families and communities outside too," Aubourg said. ​

The SJC ruling also appointed a so-called ‘special master’ to put out weekly reports to track COVID-19 testing for staff and then more than 14,000 state prisoners.

The state says more than 1,000 inmates have been tested for the coronavirus and 293 prisoners have tested positive. Seven men have died.

"In the three weeks since the SJC’s decision, the Parole Board has issued more than 200 release permits, the Department of Correction has tested more than 700 inmates for COVID-19, and more than 800 inmates have been released from custody by state and county facilities under the high court’s framework, " Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Office spokesman Jake Wark told Boston 25 in a statement.

“State criminal justice agencies will continue to protect the public safety, review each case on its merits, and work with the Special Master as we confront this unprecedented global health crisis.”

The ACLU and others are also petitioning the court for early release on behalf of incarcerated people in federal prisons.

“We are concerned about the accuracy of information that we are getting,” said Matt Segal of ACLU Massachusetts. “Partly because what we are seeing is that places that are not testing are, predictably, not finding positive cases​.”