Five Berkshire inmates released based on provisions of virus ruling

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PITTSFIELD — Prosecutors have approved the release of five pretrial detainees under the terms of a court ruling that aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the state's jails and prisons.

So far, 10 of the 19 eligible Berkshire detainees have filed motions for release under the provisions of the April 3 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, according to District Attorney Andrea Harrington.

Prosecutors assented to the release of four of inmates and took no position on the fifth, who was arrested Thursday and has since agreed to enter a detox program, Harrington said. The other four defendants have been released from custody. Two motions were denied and the remaining three are awaiting a judicial decision.

Harrington was among a number of district attorneys that petitioned for the emergency release of nonviolent inmates amid the coronavirus crisis in the interest of trying to prevent the spread of the virus in jails and prisons. Those held as dangerous or who have been charged with a serious or violent crime are among those who do not qualify for consideration under the ruling.

Harrington said her office identified the 19 as being held in pretrial detention and were either held on cash bail, held due to their bail having been revoked or held on a technical violation of probation.

Bob McGovern, spokesman for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said Friday the committee represents one of the 19 detainees, with the remainder being represented by private counsel.

McGovern said that the detainee was among those being held on cash bail, and was released following arguments earlier this week.

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Harrington said it is up to each defendant's attorney to file a motion on behalf of their clients for consideration for release with a hearing to be held within 48 hours of that filing.

Berkshire Jail and House of Correction Assistant Superintendent John "Jack" Quinn said as of Friday afternoon, no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and the number of staff who have tested positive remains unchanged at three, who are awaiting medical clearance to return to work. Sheriff Thomas Bowler has been home dealing with a health issue, but jail officials have declined to comment on whether he was among the three positive cases.

In its ruling, the SJC 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 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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