R.I. public defender seeks `extraordinary’ order to free inmates

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Defender’s office has filed an emergency petition for an “extraordinary“ order from the state Supreme Court to release all inmates whose sentences are set to expire in the next 90 days in the face of the rapid spread of the coronavirus and news that a correctional officer tested positive.

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“According to experts in public health, such a reduction would help minimize the effect that a prison outbreak would have on local healthcare providers, correctional officers and their families, inmates, and the community as a whole. Should an outbreak occur in a crowded facility, it would likely spread very rapidly, potentially causing infected officers and inmates to overwhelm the state’s already thinly-stretched hospital system,” Matthew Toro, acting director of the office, said Monday in an email.

The office is proposing that a process be created that would allow prosecutors to object to the release of any prisoner if there is a concern that he or she would present a significant risk to public safety.

“As time is of the essence, these hearings would be expedited, with the public defender provisionally representing any inmate against whom an objection has been lodged,” Toro said.

The measure would reduce the population at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston in coming days or weeks, and provide the Department of Corrections the additional space it needs to better protect the health, safety and welfare of correctional staff members, inmates, and the public at large, he said.

It was not clear how many inmates of the prison’s estimated 2,500 population might be impacted.

kmulvane@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7417

On Twitter: @kmulvane

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