Athens commissioner calls for release of inmates during coronavirus pandemic

Jails across the U.S. have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Fortunately, no positive cases have been reported at the Athens-Clarke County Jail. But one county commissioner is demanding the release of certain inmates out of health concerns.

Terrence Pattman is concerned about some of his friends and family in jail during a pandemic. He was previously incarcerated at the Athens-Clarke County Jail.

“When I was there, there's not enough medical help if something was to happen," Pattman said. “You’re taking the chance of getting sick from another person because of their lack of knowledge.”

The Georgia Department of Corrections, which oversees multiple jails and prisons across Georgia, reported 114 cases among employees and 295 cases among inmates. The number of cases tied to jails and prisons country-wide is 50 times that.

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This is why District 2 Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker wants to be proactive rather than reactive.

“It’s only a matter of time with Georgia opening back up that it makes it there, and once it’s there, it’s very likely we’ll have a really hard-to-contain outbreak,” Parker said.

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Parker is calling on the local judges, attorneys and sheriff to release

• pre-trial individuals held on bondable charges

• high risk health populations

• inmates with less than 60 days left in their sentence

• and those held for an ICE transfer

“The more we can decrease people’s time spent in incarceration the more chances they probably have to be rehabilitated and avoid recidivism,” Parker said.

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Although the county has released at least 130 inmates since the March 14 judicial emergency order, 252 people remain in the Athens-Clarke County Jail.

“This is serious. You can’t let these men and women out of jail sitting in there for shoplifting charges, petty drug charges? For two or three months, they’re sitting there taking the chance of getting sick,” Pattman said.

Right now, the release of inmates in Athens is operating on a judge-by-judge, case-by-case basis.

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