April 8 2020

MSO Working to Reduce Prison Population and Reports More COVID-19 Cases

By: BNEWS

The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has been working to reduce the prison population as more cases of COVID-19 have been found in both inmates and staff. 

 

Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian announced on Tuesday that the population being held at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction has dropped by over 100 individuals in less than four weeks to 681 as a result of direct actions taken by the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office (MSO), the district attorney, local law enforcement and the courts, in combination with the completion of sentences. The drop represents a 15 percent decline in population.

The steps taken by the MSO and its colleagues predated the recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the case filed by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (SJC-12926) seeking to have individuals released from custody.

“Since mid-March we have worked aggressively, both independently and with our public safety colleagues, to evaluate those in our custody for potential release” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “We have placed more sentenced individuals into the Electronic Monitoring Program (EMP), collaborated with District Attorney Marian Ryan and the judiciary to review individuals being held on bail, and made every effort to ensure court and medical appointments for our incarcerated population are being kept. In fact, our staff made nearly 400 video and phone conferences for court appointments in just under three weeks. We are ensuring that our responsibility as a law enforcement agency – to both provide safety for the community and access to justice for those in our custody – is continuing to be met during this crisis.”

Evaluations for all forms of release, including EMP,  have included an emphasis on elderly individuals and those with chronic health conditions as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These processes have led to:

- A doubling of individuals placed on EMP since March 20, bringing the number to 16.  Ninety (90) percent of the new individuals are over 55 years of age.

- Eighty (80) pretrial individuals identified by the MSO, the DA and defense attorneys having their bail reduced after review by the DA and courts.  Forty-eight (48) have already been confirmed to have been released from the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction. The total number released does not include women held at MCI-Framingham or men held in other jurisdictions.

The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office is continuing to review additional sentenced individuals for potential EMP placement, the release states. In cases where the MSO does not have the authority to act alone, the Sheriff and staff are working with prosecutors and families to determine whether anyone in MSO custody could have their sentences reviewed by the judiciary.

These efforts build on prior steps taken by the MSO to safely reduce its facility population. A total of 19 individuals were also released when the MSO and Mass Bail Fund worked together to identify individuals held on low cash bails. Another 41 people completed their court-imposed sentences since March 11 and have been released.

The MSO has also maintained contact with its local law enforcement partners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the release says. With some police departments issuing summons for nonviolent crimes, and courts delaying trials, new admissions into the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction have declined.

The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office also announced on Wednesday that four incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19.

 

The individuals were tested Monday after displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19. All four individuals were medically isolated in the Health Services Unit (HSU) and tested in accordance with our pre-established response plan.  Results of the tests were received Tuesday. Another inmate tested positive on Wednesday.

 

The five cases bring the total number of incarcerated individuals who have tested positive at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction to seven. The first two individuals who tested positive on March 27 and 28 were roommates who were immediately placed in medical isolation and are expected to complete their quarantine periods this week.

 

As a result of the new positive tests, movement in and out of an additional housing unit will be limited to only those presently living in the unit and essential staff. Movement in the housing unit where the first two cases came from also remains limited at this time.

 

The MSO also announced today that 13 additional employees have tested positive, bringing the total to 21. All those employees who have tested positive are remaining off duty until cleared by medical professionals to return to work.

 

In an effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has taken a number of steps since the end of February including:

- Enhancing medical screening for new individuals entering the facility beginning on March 4.

- Consulting daily with an infectious disease specialist.

- Suspending in-person visits for family and friends, as well as volunteer services, as of March 13.

- Requiring staff to wear a protective mask for the duration of their shift and providing masks to all incarcerated individuals who request one beginning on April 1.

- Telling symptomatic staff to remain at home and contact their primary care physician (PCP).  Any symptomatic staff must be cleared by their medical provider and provide documentation to Human Resources before returning to work.

- Providing equipment for staff entering the facility to take temperature checks beginning on April 3.

Sheriff Koutoujian also designated Family Resource and Outreach Coordinator Lili Bonilla as a central point of contact for families with questions regarding loved ones currently in custody.  She can assist families with questions regarding the Electronic Monitoring Program (EMP) for sentenced individuals. She can be reached during regular business hours at 978-932-3517 or by emailing lbonilla@sdm.state.ma.us.  Individuals or families with urgent concerns outside of normal business hours should contact 978-667-1711 ext. 0.

“Ensuring the well-being of all those who live in and work at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction is of paramount importance to myself and my staff.  By developing specialized processes for release throughout our population, we are keeping both the public safety and public health of our communities at the forefront,” said Sheriff Koutoujian.  “The steps we have taken will benefit both those we release and those who remain with us as we work on ways that this population decline can help us maintain social distancing standards inside the facility. As we have since the beginning of this crisis, we will continue to work with our security staff, our infectious disease specialist, and external as well as internal medical professionals to make the best decisions for the health and safety of our population.”


 

 
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