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ACLU calls for release of oregnant inmates during the coronavirus pandemic

Advocates point to the case of Andrea Circle Bear, who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday in federal custody.

  • By Sarah McCammon/NPR
Part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's William G. McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, stands at sunset Wednesday, April 15, 2020. More than 26,000 people have been locked down in 22 Texas prisons that are keeping prisoners in their cells in an effort to contain the coronavirus, according to the TDCJ's most recent numbers. The McConnell Unit is not one of the 22.

Eric Gay / AP Photo

Part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's William G. McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, stands at sunset Wednesday, April 15, 2020. More than 26,000 people have been locked down in 22 Texas prisons that are keeping prisoners in their cells in an effort to contain the coronavirus, according to the TDCJ's most recent numbers. The McConnell Unit is not one of the 22.

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(Washington) — The American Civil Liberties Union is asking federal and state corrections officials to free pregnant inmates in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The request comes after a South Dakota woman died of the virus in federal custody in Texas on Tuesday, just weeks after giving birth.

The pandemic has prompted corrections officials in many jurisdictions around the country to release some inmates out of concerns about overcrowded conditions and exposure to the virus behind bars.

Now, the ACLU is asking governors and President Trump to free all pregnant inmates with less than a year left on their sentences.

Advocates point to the case of Andrea Circle Bear, 30, of South Dakota, who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday in federal custody. Circle Bear was serving a 26-month sentence in Fort Worth, Texas, for a drug conviction. She’d delivered a baby by Cesarean sectiona few weeks ago, according to reports.

In a statement, the ACLU’s Cynthia Roseberry called Circle Bear’s death “a startling wakeup call that shows the true cost of the U.S. obsession with mass incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The ACLU estimates that some 200,000 prisoners nationwide could die of the new coronavirus unless inmate releases are escalated.

Also this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the release of pregnant inmates with nonviolent convictions and less than six months left to serve.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has said it is carefully monitoring the situation and has taken steps intended to improve safety, including suspending visits to federal prisons and screening inmates for symptoms.

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