BOSTON — Warning that public health precautions are impossible with prisons and jails at their current population levels, a coalition of legal aid and community groups increased their calls Tuesday for the Baker administration to reduce incarceration and limit COVID-19 risks in correctional facilities. Advocates have warned since the start of the outbreak that correctional facilities are vulnerable to the highly infectious disease because of frequent close contact, but public safety officials so far have not taken large-scale steps to release inmates in significant numbers.
The coalition, which includes groups ranging from the New England Innocence Project to the National Association of Social Workers’ Massachusetts chapter, unveiled new demands that the administration act, arguing Gov. Charlie Baker has broad clemency powers he could deploy while plaintiffs seek relief in the courts.“The need for decarceration, the release of prisoners is the only way to stem the public health emergency that’s facing our prisoners, those that are incarcerated,” said Rev. David Lewis, a board member at the Pioneer Valley Project. “Social distancing is impossible to do in prisons, and infections are spreading dangerously fast.”