AG, public defender agree on release of 76 inmates at ACI
CRANSTON, R.I. (WLNE) – Fears of COVID-19 spreading among inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions have caused the Attorney General’s Office, the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, and the Department of Corrections to reach an agreement on the release of 76 prisoners.
The public defender’s office filed an emergency petition on Monday for an extraordinary order from the Rhode Island Supreme Court to release the inmates.
The Department of Corrections submitted a list of more than 200 inmates with less than 90 days remaining on their sentences, and the AG’s Office and Public Defender agreed on the release of 76 of them. The final decision lies with the Supreme Court.
All of the selected inmates are non-violent offenders and have release dates within the next 90 days.
“Yesterday, the Department of Health advised this Office that overall public health would benefit from the release of inmates, provided they were released to a stable home environment and self-quarantined for 14 days, with monitoring by DOH. Accordingly, this Office has agreed to the release of 76 inmates presently serving sentences for non-violent offenses and due to be released within the next ninety days, subject to DOH’s conditions,” read a statement from Attorney General Peter Neronha’s Office on Thursday.
Governor Gina Raimondo addressed the situation in her press conference Thursday.
“We’re gonna go ahead and let them go home so they can be with their families. That gives us more space in the prison,” Governor Raimondo said in response to a child who asked how those in jail are being kept safe.
Richard Ferruccio of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers union said they are wary of early release. He said the union was kept out of any decision-making on the matter.
“I think anytime you’re gonna release a group of inmates early, there’s always a concern. If something happens while this person, if this person should re-offend, obviously there’s gonna be an outcry saying, well, why’d you let them out?”
He said shortening a sentence means less time for prison officials to ensure the inmate has somewhere to go.
“I know there’s some concerns by families of inmates that their loved ones might be in a dangerous place, but it’s actually in some ways, I think, safer here than it is in the streets,” said Ferruccio.
The court filing says the inmates will only be released if they have a stable home to go back to and if they agree to quarantine for 14 days. But, Ferruccio said, with things moving so fast, he hopes the inmates aren’t being set up to fail.
“A lot of these inmates that are leaving, hopefully, there’s a plan in place. Hopefully, they’re gonna have a place to go because the world that they knew when they came in is different than the world that is today.”
According to DOC spokesman J.R. Ventura, two correctional officers have tested positive for COVID-19, and as of Thursday, 19 were in self-quarantine.
© WLNE-TV 2020