COVID-19 and Prison Release

prison

WHAT IF STAY-IN-PLACE COULD MEAN RISK?

Stay-in-place orders are meant to reduce contact between people and control the spread of COVID-19, but what happens when stay-in-place leaves people vulnerable?

Chaplains and volunteers with Catholic prison ministry across Maryland have been concerned about the risk of COVID-19 for incarcerated youth and adults.

The order by Governor Larry Hogan in mid-April to allow expedited release of inmates who are considered not to pose a threat to public safety, such as those who are elderly, pregnant, or non-violent, was welcomed to reduce crowding and health risks.

“My office has received so many calls concerning their incarcerated family members that I was overwhelmed. It was truly a blessing,” Deacon Seigfried Presberry said after the governor's order was enacted. He is the coordinator for prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The Maryland Catholic Conference participates in two state coalitions that focus on reforms to the system of justice. Garrett O'Day, deputy director for the Conference, noted, "The Maryland Catholic Conference has taken positions previously on legislation that is in line with Gov. Hogan’s order, such as commonsense measures allowing for geriatric parole and protection for pregnant inmates.”

On April 27, the Maryland Department for Juvenile Services announced that 200 youth being held for non-violent or misdemeanor reasons had been released. Five young people and 11 staff previously had tested positive for COVID-19.

Fr. Mike Bryant, who has worked in prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington since the 1980s and who continues to serve as a volunteer chaplain, said the reason prisons are a particular concern is that “COVID-19 is a deadly virus and people living in confined spaces are at high risk for contracting this disease, whether they are in nursing homes, jails, prisons or half-way houses. Prisons are often unsanitary places, and sometimes lack basic means by which residents can maintain personal hygiene and social distance from one another.”

While restrictions are in place in Maryland’s prisons, Deacon Presberry noted the two full-time chaplains in the Archdiocese of Baltimore continue to serve these correctional institutions and are allowed to go inside as essential workers. He noted that the work right now “has been challenging, to say the least.”

Prison ministry volunteers and other visitors, however, are not permitted to enter prisons at this time. Deacon Presberry said he is getting requests from parishes and others asking how they can help or donate.

“I remind them to pray and after we can see some light at the end of the tunnel, I will be contacting them because the institutions are not allowing anything to come in” during this crisis, he said.

LEARN MORE about prison ministry and re-entry programs: Archdiocese of Baltimore | Archdiocese of Washington