April 14 (UPI) — At least three states and the District of Columbia recorded their first inmate deaths due to the deadly and infectious coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
Officials in Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and D.C. confirmed on Monday that a detention facility inmate in each of their states has died of COVID-19, which has infected nearly 600,000 people in the country and caused more than 23,500 deaths, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.
The announcements came amid mounting criticism, lawsuits and petitions calling for prisons to release inmates being held on low-level offenses in order to depopulate their facilities, which health officials have said are conducive to the spread of the coronavirus.
The Connecticut Department of Corrections identified its first inmate death late Monday in a statement as a male in his 60s serving a two-year sentence for criminal possession of a firearm.
In the statement, officials said the inmate was approved last month for discretionary release but “an appropriate home sponsor could not be located by the offender.”
He was confirmed infected with the virus three days after being tested following exhibiting symptoms of the disease, officials said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has been lobbying Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont since at least March 10 to address concerns over the safety of inmates amid the pandemic and chastised him and the Department of Corrections in a letter late Monday for their “callous inaction” that lead to the inmate’s death.
“The state of Connecticut has a constitutional, moral and ethical responsibility to protect public health by releasing incarcerated people to prevent them from contracting COVID-19, especially people who are most vulnerable,” said ACLU of Connecticut Executive Director David McGuire in a statement.
In Maryland, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced its first death was a man in his 60s who died Saturday at the Jessup Correctional Institution after being hospitalized for several weeks with an underlying health issue.
The department has confirmed 93 total infections among its prison population, with the Jessup institution accounting for the highest number of infections with 33.
The death follows repeated calls by activists and lawyers in the state for correctional institutions to reduce populations.
On April 7, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition asking the Maryland Court of Appeals to guide officials in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
“The evidence concerning COVID-19 indicates that once it enters a detention center, it spreads significantly faster inside the detention center than outside,” said Chris Beyer, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, in his declaration in support of the petition. “Releasing as many inmates as possible is important to protect the health of inmates, the health of correctional facility staff, the health of healthcare workers at jails and other detention facilities, and the health of the community as a whole.”
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Corrections announced a 67-year-old African-American man serving a life-sentence for a first-degree murder conviction died of COVID-19 on April 8 with the coroner reporting his cause of death as acute respiratory distress from pneumonia induced by the virus on Saturday.
In D.C., Deon Crowell, 51, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday and died on Monday, the same day he was hospitalized, the Department of Corrections said in a statement.
On March 28, Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old man with pre-existing conditions, became the country’s first inmate to die from the coronavirus. He was being held at the Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale, Louisiana.