NEW YORK. – Dozens of prisoners in federal jails of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Police (ICE), in New Jersey, Massachusetts, began to be released this weekend, as part of the authorities’ strategy to stop the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the penitentiaries of those states.
Most of the released Dominicans, who have not been identified, except one, who was said to be 36 years old and incarcerated in the Bristol County Jail, were serving sentences for non-violent crimes.
In Bristol, until Saturday, there were 129 cases of contagion, but the Department of Health did not specify the number of affected in the prisons.
Many of the Dominicans on the loose were released by a Boston federal judge after a prison employee tested positive for COVID-19.
In Bristol County, the total number of reported cases increased from 90 to 129, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health.
The ACLU demanded the release of the other two held there.
In New Jersey, federal judges are taking the same steps, and a Hispanic judge ordered Thursday the release of 10 immigration detainees with underlying health problems in several jails in that state, which have been confirmed positive.
The 10 detainees, including several Dominicans who were in Hudson, Bergen and Essex counties jails, filed a petition Wednesday asking to be released due to the crisis.
Inmates suffer from a number of pre-existing conditions, including lung problems, diabetes, asthma, and a history of pneumonia.
“The 10 petitioners face an imminent risk of death or serious injury if exposed to COVID-19,” Judge Analisa Torres wrote in her order alongside the detainees.
Torres determined that the constitutional rights that protect immigration detainees could be violated if the petitioners are jailed, according to the order.
Torres wrote that the New York ICE field office seems indifferent to the dire situation facing immigration detainees in their custody.
“Respondents appear to be unaware of this confinement condition that is likely to cause imminent and life-threatening illness,” the judge wrote about ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, which are summoned in the petition.
“These government agencies cannot demonstrate that detention centers are in a position to allow inmates to remain six feet apart from each other, as recommended by the Centers for Communicable Disease Prevention (CDC),” added Torres.
Some Massachusetts prisoners are being released due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But whether someone is released depends largely on where they are incarcerated.
The highest number of prisoner releases will occur in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the state.
For the past week, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan has been reviewing cases with Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and defense attorneys.
Last week more than 40 prisoners who have not yet been tried were released.
“We are doing this in a balanced way,” Ryan said. “You know, a collaborative and thoughtful approach that balances public safety issues with what can be medically compromised people with the need not to pass this virus on to institutions if I can do that.”
Ryan is also analyzing cases involving people who have been sentenced, and will consider factors such as whether a prisoner has health problems or is detained for a non-violent crime.
Ryan also asked the local police to make arrests only when absolutely necessary and to look for alternatives to the courts and jails during this pandemic. Last week, he said, his court appearances were about a tenth of his usual number.