To stem the possible spread of COVID-19 in state prisons and promote the safety of staff and inmates, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has ordered the release of 186 inmates “identified as higher risk for severe illness or death due to their medical conditions per guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The inmates are serving sentences for non-violent, non-sexual felonies and have less than five years to run on their sentences. Under terms of the “conditional commutations,” directed April 2, the inmates must test negative for COVID-19, quarantine for 14 days and they must not “commit any additional offenses.”

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Asked at his press conference yesterday if he would consider letting older, sick inmates out, Governor Hutchinson said no, that they would merely be separated from the rest of the prison population. He said it would not be safe to free persons convicted of violent crime and moved on to another question before he could be asked about non-violent offenders. Hutchinson said he believed some counties were releasing people being held on minor offenses in response to the virus.

The Arkansas Health Department reported yesterday that the federal lockup in Forrest City had 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that 15 to 20 more inmates and staff were exhibiting symptoms. That followed the April 2 report of only two cases. The numbers illustrate how quickly this highly communicable virus can spread in the kind of quarters that exist in a prison. The CDC has been asked for help to control the prison spread; Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith noted at yesterday’s press conference that social distancing in a prison is difficult — any prison, including Arkansas’s overcrowded lockups.

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