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COVID-19 IN PRISONS

As of February 2020, there have been approximately 2,800 incarcerated individuals who have passed away due to COVID-19. More than 500,000 people had contracted COVID-19. Most affected has been the Black population, as they have disproportionately died because of COIVD due to the disparities in care. Since African Americans account for 33% of the total incarcerated population, they are disproportionately affected while incarcerated. Because of overcrowding, lack of quarantine options, and low vaccination rates, there is a need to reduce COVID-19 cases in prisons.



Image from the NY Times


On April 18, 2020, Maryland Governor Lawrence Hogan signed the executive order “Implementing Alternative Correctional Detention and Supervision.” His order would allow up to 700 individuals who are not considered a public safety risk and those who were supposed to be released the following four months to go on early release or home detention. The Parole Commission would also allow eligible elderly incarcerated individuals, sixty and older, to be considered for accelerated parole.


Those convicted of sexual offenses or violent crimes are ineligible for early release under this executive order. Additionally, when determining eligibility incarcerated individuals with medical conditions may be considered for early release.


Originally Hogan rejected releasing those incarcerated and stated, “they’re safer where they are” and “I don’t think it’d be a great idea.” But after immense pressure from civil rights groups, public defenders, and other state governors, Governor Hogan signed the order.


Hogan stated, “It is in the public interest to prevent inmates’ exposure to the novel coronavirus by expeditiously moving them to alternative places of confinement, such as in supervised community placement or their homes.”


“The public health experts have been clear: Any plan to effectively contain COVID-19 must include significant reductions in the number of people behind bars — for their safety and the safety of staff, their families, and for all of us.” -Governor Hogan

On November 18, 2020, Governor Hogan signed another executive order aimed at allowing 1,200 eligible individuals for early release. This would grant releases to those scheduled to leave prison within 120 days. Similar to the April order, people convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses were ineligible.



In Maryland, there are 24 state prison facilities and 18,000 state inmates. By June 2021, there were approximately 4,500 positive COVID cases and 32 deaths in Maryland. But there was a slight improvement between 2020 to 2021. In 2021, Maryland received a D- for their handling of COVID-19 in prisons compared to a F+ in 2020.


By signing these Executive Orders, Governor Hogan was able to reduce slightly reduce the incarceration population while mitigating the possibility of contracting COVID-19. But during its passage, a major concern was which individual(s) would have a greater advantage. Considering White individuals are given more lenient sentences, it would be assumed these release policies would favor White over non-white people.


Image from STAT


I believe other states should have taken into consideration implementing a similar executive order. For example, in California, of the 8,766 positive COVID-19 tests in 2020, approximately 22% were Black and 44% were Latino. This demonstrates that the minority were the most affected by COVD-19 infections. But I also believe the passage of an executive order would not be enough. As noted, there are disparities in sentencing and the system. Because individuals who are supposed to get released in the next three months are considered, those with similar crimes may not have the same advantage because of some sentencing disparity in their case. Although I think Governor Hagen’s reasonings for the passage of both orders were with good intentions, they did not do enough.


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