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ACLU Calls For Release Of Inmates After One Tests Positive For COVID-19

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – An inmate at the Salt Lake County jail tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday.

According to county officials, the prisoner presented flu-like symptoms on March 31 and was immediately isolated in a negative pressure cell.

“Over the last three weeks, the jail has been preparing to handle COVID-19,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera. “We want to assure the community who have loved ones working at or who are incarcerated in our facility that we are doing all we can to prevent the spread.”

Based on physician recommendations, deputies transferred 51 prisoners who had contact with the infected inmate, in small groups, to the Metro Jail to be medically quarantined.

“It’s just not enough, not quickly enough,” said John Mejia, legal director for Utah’s ACLU. “We need our jails as empty as possible. We filed an emergency petition directly to the Utah Supreme Court on behalf of all incarcerated people in the state of Utah.”

Members of the civil rights group that filed the petition are asking for the release of those defendants serving sentences with fewer than 180 days, prisoners at high risk for medical complications, and those inmates awaiting trial.

“All who are incarcerated need free soap and free hand sanitizer,” Mejia said. “There is a concern that if there is alcohol in the sanitizer it should’t be allowed, but that concern needs to be set aside.”

Mejia said he understands there is a public safety concern. He said the petition is written to address that issue.

“We have asked the court to appoint a special master to thoroughly look at each situation,” Mejia said. “We are hoping there will be a quick release of as many people as possible.”

In the past few weeks, hundreds of offenders have been released by judges at the request of individual defense lawyers.

Those in Salt Lake County who have been allowed to leave were considered nonviolent, according to defense attorneys.

The deadline for response to the lawsuit is April 13.


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