PUEBLO, Colorado — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is calling on Governor Jared Polis and the state court system to release some inmates from prisons and jails in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Denise Maes, the public policy director for civil rights group explained that jails, prisons, community corrections facilities can be become "somewhat of a Petri dish" given the large numbers of people sharing the same space.
"When the governor talks about congregating in numbers of 10 or less, we have hundreds, and in some cases in at the Department of Corrections, thousands of individuals that are there together," Maes said.
She also said there is a higher risk of exposure to corrections workers and other staff inside these facilities.
Local leaders in Pueblo County have already taken steps to release some inmates.
Chief Judge Deborah Eyler met with the District Attorney and Public Defender earlier in the week. The parties agreed to a list of inmates currently being held pretrial who could have their bonds lowered and be released.
Rob McCallum, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch, explained the release of those particular defendants would not interfere with the Victims Rights Act or any crimes of violence statutes.
Another group of inmates with 30 days or less remaining on their sentences could also be released early. However, McCallum said the individual judges overseeing those defendants cases would have to make the final decision.
Maes from the ACLU thinks Pueblo is making a good move.
"What we are hoping to do is say hey, there's a real chance for a serious epidemic here," Maes said. "So, please pay some particular close attention to it."
There was another variable facing the Pueblo judicial system in particular. Both the Pueblo Pulp and Pueblo Chieftain newspapers reported this week that the first patient in Pueblo County to have a positive test for COVID-19 worked for the public defender. It is not believed that individual ever visited the jail, and that he quickly put himself in quarantine after showing symptoms of the virus.
When the situation was brought up during Wednesday's media briefing by the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, epidemiologist Margaret Comstock praised the patient for his quick response.
"When his symptoms started, he put himself at home in self-isolation and has been there ever since," Comstock said. "I applaud this gentleman in our community who has done a phenomenal job and we need to respect his privacy."
The Pueblo jail has a capacity of around 509 inmates. The facility frequently houses hundreds more offenders. As of Thursday evening, the online jail roster indicated a total of 578 inmates in custody.
CORRECTION: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly stated that the Pueblo Police Chief was part of the discussion of which pretrial inmates could be released from custody. It was the Public Defender who participated in that discussion.
Click here for the latest update on the number of cases, the age, gender and location of presumptive positive, indeterminate and confirmed cases from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.