INDIANAPOLIS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on Monday filed an emergency petition with the Indiana Supreme Court seeking the release of certain incarcerated individuals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACLU said Indiana law allows for steps to be taken to release both those awaiting trial and those convicted to safer environments during the novel coronavirus crisis.
The ACLU said people in prisons and jails are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses. Given the rate of transmission of COVID-19, the spread once the disease enters a jail or prison would be quick and potentially deadly.
Officials with the ACLU noted that prior to the public health emergency, Indiana county jails were already facing an overcrowding crisis with 77 percent of Indiana's jails overcrowded or at capacity in 2018.
The ACLU petition recommends the Indiana Supreme Court issue emergency steps "to identify pretrial detainees and incarcerated people who are at high risk of death because of COVID-19 exposure and may be eligible for release to home detention." The petition recommends waiving bail requirements for pretrial detainees who do not pose an immediate threat and in the case of convicted individuals, determining whether a sentence reduction or suspension is warranted to the person may shelter at home.
"Ensuring the safety of at-risk individuals in Indiana's jails and prisons is not only a humanitarian necessity, it is a constitutional requirement," Ken Falk, legal director at ACLU of Indiana, said. "The only way of hoping to stop the deadly spread of COVID-19 is to take these additional steps ion the criminal legal system. This will benefit not just people who are incarcerated, but those who work in jails and prisons, and go back and forth to their families and communities every day."
The ACLU noted social distancing is impossible in jails and prisons. In addition, they noted people are housed in close quarters and they are often in poor health.