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19 Berkshire inmates eligible to seek release under COVID-19 ruling

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PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire District Attorney's Office has identified 19 people being held at the Berkshire Jail and House of Correction who are eligible to be considered for release under last Friday's ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court.

The decision allows for the release of some people being held in houses of correction on pretrial detention in the interest of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in those facilities.

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said none of those 19 are being held on a serious or violent charge, nor are they being held without bail as the result of a dangerousness hearing.

She said Monday those inmates are being held either on cash bail, having had their bail revoked or a violation of probation.

Bob McGovern, communications director for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said once the committee has the list of inmates from the DA's office, staff attorneys will identify their clients who are eligible to be considered for release and take the appropriate action.

Harrington said as attorneys file motions for release on the defendants' behalf, hearings on those motions should occur within 48 hours.

She said an email went out to the committee on Monday encouraging them to file those motions.

"We intend to review each matter individually, consult with any victims in the case, consult with law enforcement and make our recommendations," she wrote. "We weigh public safety and public health and they're very intertwined with this virus but public safety demands that people who are dangerous, who commit violent crimes, need to remain behind bars, irrespective of any risks of COVID-19 in correctional facilities."

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The 19 are among the approximately 169 currently housed at the jail as of Monday morning, none of whom are showing symptoms nor have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Assistant Superintendent John "Jack" Quinn.

Three staff members have tested positive and are off the job, pending medical clearance to return to duty. Jail officials would not confirm whether Sheriff Thomas Bowler is included among those staff members, citing medical privacy restrictions.

Bowler has reportedly been resting at home due to unspecified health concerns.

In its ruling, the court noted that jails and prisons have unique difficulties keeping their populations safe during a pandemic.

"Maintaining six feet of distance between oneself and others, may be nearly impossible in prisons and jails," according to the court, and proper sanitation also is a concern.

Jail and prison populations are more likely to have underlying conditions that can make the virus more deadly, the court ruled.

The SJC noted that, should an outbreak occur, the Department of Correction has a limited capacity to respond to it, potentially adding an additional burden to the health care system "already at risk of being overwhelmed."

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com and at @Bobdunn413 on Twitter.


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