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Massachusetts district attorneys file motion in opposition of thousands of inmates being released due to COVID-19



March 31, 2020 -Boston- Seven of the Commonwealth’s district attorneys have filed a brief opposing an emergency petition made to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL), which seeks to immediately release thousands of inmates from custody over concerns of COVID-19 in jail and prisons in the state.

In a release, Eastern (Essex) District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz, Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr., Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, and Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn stated that they understand the petitioners’ concerns regarding the risks presented by COVID-19 in detention facilities in the Commonwealth, but feel that the action is not appropriate. Instead, the district attorneys prefer that inmates be considered for release on a case-by-case basis in hearings before judges, who make individual decisions considering the totality of the circumstances.

The group issued the following comments.

“The petition’s demands completely ignore the dangers associated with the unconditional release of thousands of pre-trial and convicted inmates, which would come without re-entry planning or subsequent supervision. This kind of spontaneous release would not only endanger crime victims and the public, but also the very inmates being released. In this state of emergency, those released would not benefit from the bevy of after-incarceration services typically provided, including medical and substance use care, and would not be supervised by agencies like parole or probation, which provide critical resources and guidance to men and women who re-enter our society after months and years of incarceration. The chance of recidivism would increase and jeopardize public safety and place additional pressure on law enforcement and a court system that are already stretching to ensure public safety and health during this unprecedented pandemic.”

“The petition also wholly disregards victims’ rights, which are guaranteed under Massachusetts General Laws. These laws specifically guarantee that victims are heard in decisions on sentencing, sex offender registry, and parole release. These rights would be trampled over if the petitioners’ demands are granted. Victims would not have their statutorily-guaranteed right to notice of when an offender who committed a crime against him/her is being released. This creates particularly dangerous situations for domestic violence victims, who are currently uniquely immobile, due to social distancing and quarantines because of COVID-19.”

Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni stated, “The petitioners’ approach of mass releasing offenders is ill-conceived, overbroad, and reckless. Dangerous criminals who pose a clear public safety risk should not be allowed to exploit a public health crisis.” District Attorney Gulluni went on to say, “As prosecutors, we have a duty to the law, victims, and the public, which includes those who are incarcerated. Being mindful to all these responsibilities, we have taken to an individualized review of release requests and have and will agree to release non-violent defendants whose health conditions and/or age present greater risks were they to contract COVID-19. We want all people to stay safe and healthy during this incredible time in our history, but indiscriminately releasing scores of inmates into the Commonwealth in a state of emergency is just a bad idea.”

Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn stated, “I am very mindful of the serious public health crisis that is afflicting our country. I am concerned for everyone’s welfare, especially our heroic medical workers, grocery employees, first responders and anyone putting themselves in danger for the public good. I am very concerned about the well-being of the thousands of victims whose rights would be violated by the mass release of thousands of individuals from our jails and prisons. This would jeopardize both their physical and mental well-being, especially in cases of domestic violence. We need to make rational decisions so that there are not grave, unintended consequences from rash and ill-conceived decisions. Correctional facilities have implemented stringent protocols to protect inmates and staff from the Coronavirus. As of this writing, no one has tested positive in the Bristol County jails. These facilities have dealt with significant health-related issues in the past and have the expertise and experience to protect the inmates. We are now receiving a number of motions for the release of very dangerous defendants who have no business being out on the street. While I am concerned for everyone’s welfare, this appears to be an attempt to manipulate this serious public health crisis to obtain their release from jail. Ensuring public safety is my primary duty. It is a duty that underlies all government action. I will continue to review cases on an individual basis, but I am strongly opposed to the wholesale release of defendants who are properly in custody. Releasing many defendants to the street is against the public interest and should not be done in a society based on the rule of law.” ​​

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