- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The city of Baltimore will stop prosecuting nonviolent criminal charges including drug possession, trespassing, prostitution and public urination during the coronavirus pandemic, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Wednesday.

The move makes Baltimore the latest city to stop prosecuting low-level offenses while the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the nation. Philadelphia, New York City’s Brooklyn borough, Denver and Fort Worth, Texas, announced similar initiatives earlier this week.

“I’ve instructed my prosecutors not to charge certain low-level nonviolent offenses to avoid people being held in jail unnecessarily,” Ms. Mosby wrote in a letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.

Ms. Mosby also urged Mr. Hogan to release all inmates in state prisons who are over 60, approved for parole or scheduled to complete their sentences within the next year.

“Jails and prisons cycle large numbers of people in and out of close, unsanitary quarters on a daily basis,” she wrote. “If these facilities become breeding grounds for the coronavirus, it will not only impact those incarcerated but our entire communities.



“Now is not the time for a piecemeal approach where we go into court and argue one by one for the release of at-risk individuals,” Ms. Mosby wrote. “Decisive action is needed and it can only be taken by the Executive Branch.”

Los Angeles, Chicago and Virginia Beach, Virginia, have already released vulnerable, nonviolent offenders.

Civil rights groups and health professionals have called for a reduction in the number of people held in local, state and federal lockups because of the havoc the coronavirus could create in a prison.

The country’s prison system has already been under fire for lacking the capacity to meet inmates’ health needs. And the close quarters make practicing social distancing — a key to stopping the coronavirus spread — nearly impossible.

Coronavirus cases have ravaged Chinese prisons, according to The Associated Press. Iran has released 54,000 inmates to avoid a prison outbreak.

Earlier this month, Mr. Hogan canceled prison visits offering free phone calls and video visitations instead.

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