Some Valley Prisoners Freed Due to Coronavirus

No nation keeps such a high percentage of its people in prison as the USA. Europe's rate is a third of ours. Due to the coronavirus, the prosecutors in the counties that are home to Northampton and Brattleboro are releasing some prisoners. “I have released some due to coronavirus,” Tracy Shriver told the Valley Post in a phone interview on March 26. She is the prosecutor for Windham county, which includes Brattleboro. Shriver said she has freed “more than one and fewer than 100” people due to the epidemic. She declined to provide an exact number and suggested the Valley Post ask state officials.

Monica Weeber is a spokeswoman for the Vermont department of corrections. On March 27, she told the Valley Post, “Our goal is to lower the population to create better social spacing. Our inmate population on February 24 was 1,671. Our inmate numbers yesterday at 3 p.m. were 1,501."

About 2.3 million people were in prison in the USA before the coronavirus epidemic began.

David Sullivan is the prosecutor for Hampshire county. The county includes Amherst and Northampton. He has been freeing some prisoners due to coronavirus.

Dana Goldblatt is a lawyer in Northampton. On March 26, she told the Valley Post that Sullivan is moving far too slowly. “I have now spoken to about 30 sentenced inmates. They report that they are stacked in bunk beds that are about two or three feet apart. It doesn’t matter how many times they wash their hands. It's impossible to keep six feet of distance while climbing in and out of bunks and walking around a room that is that crowded. They are breathing disease into each other. It’s not a problem you can solve with soap. The only way to prevent spreading infection is to reduce the population in each room to two inmates, maybe three. We're talking about an 80 percent reduction. It needs to happen yesterday.”

She continued, “There are about 200 inmates in Hampshire county. They are basically all going to get sick at the same time because they are literally sleeping on top of each other. In China, overall, about 15 percent of infected people required hospitalization and 5 percent required critical care. We can expect those numbers to be higher for the incarcerated population because they are generally sicker than the general population. So let's assume that 20 percent and 10 percent. Is our local hospital ready to accept 40 new patients at once, of which 20 will need ICU beds? How will this affect their ability to care for the rest of us, here in Hampshire county? If the answer is, 'No, are you kidding me,' then we need to stagger those cases. And the only way to stagger those cases is to release the inmates so they can practice social distancing.”

Lois Ahrens is the founder of a Northampton-based group that has more than 30,000 Facebook "likes" and a web page at www.RealCostOfPrisons.org. On March 26, she told the Valley Post, “Incarcerated people who must live near each other, sharing a tiny cell or in rooms filled with bunk beds, sharing toilets and shower and chow halls are at great risk for getting the coronavirus and infecting others who are incarcerated, as well as the guards, their families and other people in the community. Decarceration is what is needed right now. This means district attorneys, sheriffs and the trial court agreeing on procedures which would allow entire groups of people to be released. For example, people incarcerated only for parole violations, people who have only six months to serve on their sentence, people with bail under $10,000 who pose no risk to any other individual, people over 55 with preexisting conditions such as heart conditions, asthma, diabetes. Releasing people on an individual basis – case by case -- is like trying to put out a raging fire with an eyedropper. A jail or a prison sentence should not be a death sentence.”

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The town of Rockingham, Vermont is about 20 minutes by car from Brattleboro. Bellows Falls is a village in Rockingham. On March 23, a woman sued the town of Rockingham because, she says, the Bellows Falls police chief sexually assaulted her. Alisha Beam is the woman. The police chief in question, Ron Lake, resigned March 1. Norman Watts is a lawyer in Woodstock, Vermont. He's representing Beam. On March 26, Watts told the Valley Post that Beam recently resigned from her job as dispatcher at the Bellows Falls police department. She had the job for 17 years. The alleged sexual assault happened while Beam and Lake were working for the Bellows Falls police department.

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In January 2020, about 500 people took part in the Springfield, Massachusetts Women's March. Photos are at:

www.valleypost.org/node/1565

On March 20, the national Women's March group sent an e-mail to its members asking people to contact their members of congress and ask them to pass a law that would give $2,000 per month to every adult in the USA. Parents would get $1,000 per month per child.

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A March 25 New York Times news article about coronavirus said, “Do people who survive the infection become immune to the virus? The answer is a qualified yes, with some significant unknowns.” That would be one way for the epidemic to end. The vast majority of people who get coronavirus have mild symptoms and recover from the illness.

On March 24, the FDA approved a coronavirus treatment, according to the Times article. How well the treatment works remains to be seen.

A March 26 Bloomberg News article says a coronavirus "vaccine could be available to some patients, likely health-care workers under emergency use authorization, in the fall."

People should follow the prevention instructions at the web site of the health department for the state they live in.

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