22 inmates approved for release

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PITTSFIELD — Since the state's highest court ruled some inmates could be let out in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in correctional facilities, approximately 45 motions have been filed on behalf of Berkshire County defendants seeking to be released.

Twenty-two of those motions were approved by the court, 15 were denied and eight are still being considered, according to the Berkshire District Attorney's Office.

District Attorney Andrea Harrington said among the individuals who were released, none are considered violent offenders or were being held without bail after being found dangerous.

Eight of the 22 qualified for what the Supreme Judicial Court considered "presumptive release," including people being held on cash bail and not charged with serious crimes, according to the DA's office.

The SJC provided a list of charges that exclude individuals from being considered for release including allegations of domestic violence.

"The individuals released were being held on bail established by a judge or clerk magistrate or were already released on bail and had it revoked for a technical violation. None of the individuals being held pretrial were deemed dangerous by the court," Harrington said in a statement.

One was detained for violating their release conditions for failing a drug test, another had their bail revoked for picking up a new drug possession charge and a third is accused of violating a no-contact order by sending a letter through the mail.

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The five others were all being held on cash bail; one on $5,000, another on $3,000 and the remaining two on $2,500 each.

According to the DA's office, those five were detained only because they could not raise the bail, otherwise they would have already been released.

Of the 45 motions that were filed seeking the release of defendants, the DA's Office assented to 16 and opposed 20. The court released six over prosecutors' objections.

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The SJC decision was intended to reduce the population of correctional facilities in which social distancing recommendations may not be able to be maintained and in which the highly contagious COVID-19 virus could easily spread.

As of last week, none of the inmates at the Berkshire Jail and House of Correction had tested positive for COVID-19. And, according to a state report which is required to be generated weekly since the SJC decision, there have been no new positive cases among the jail's correctional officers and staff during the week of April 5-13.

According to the report, three inmates, six correctional officers and one staff person were tested that week, all with negative results.

Since the outbreak, however, three staff members did test positive and were barred from working in the facility until medically cleared to return.

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During the same April 5-13 period, Hampshire County reported six inmates and one staff member were tested, with two of those inmates testing positive. No staff members produced positive results, according to the report.

In Hampden County, the report shows seven inmates, seven correctional officers and six staff members were tested that week with two of those correctional officers and all six staff members testing positive.

Franklin County tested 11 of its correctional officers and four staff members that week, with two of those officers testing positive for COVID-19.

Statewide, 54 inmates tested positive along with 48 correctional officers and 14 staff during the April 5-13 period.

"The risk of overwhelming our medical staff because of COVID-19 is genuine as Massachusetts has yet to hit the surge in case of numbers as predicted by health officials," Harrington said.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com and @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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