Pennsylvania Supreme Court declines to reduce prison population to stop coronavirus spread

Cherri Gregg
April 03, 2020 - 7:43 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania's highest court has declined to use its power to help lower prison populations as more inmates test positive to COVID-19. Instead, the courts have compelled county judicial districts to step up.

The emergency petition filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to use its King's Bench power to free certain categories of inmates in order to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak within the prisons. 

The court denied the request, holding that releasing the inmates would fail to account for danger to victims and the general public. Instead, it implored local judicial districts, district attorneys, public defenders and other stakeholders to create protocols for reducing inmate populations that would help the facilities deal with the pandemic.

"It's not something that we should take lightly. There's just a lot of people in there that don't need to be in there," said Keir Bradford-Grey, chief defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

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In recent days, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections reported positive COVID-19 infections among eight staff members and two inmates. On Friday, Philadelphia prisons reported that 31 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus. 

The city declined to report the number of infections among jail staff.

The First Judicial District released new protocols for swift review of cases for the purpose of reducing inmate populations in the city's jails. 

Under the new policy, inmates convicted of economic crimes, those who have served their minimum or are held on a max of $25,000 bail with no sex, violent, gun or drug offense will get priority consideration for release.

"We’re hoping to be able to get people out by next week,” Bradford-Grey said.