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Sheriffs Say Early Releases Leading To Overdose Deaths, Crimes

Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, Massachusetts.
File photo
MassLive / masslive.com
Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, Massachusetts.

Some western Massachusetts sheriffs said people being released early from jail amid the COVID-19 pandemic are having difficulty adjusting after being let go.

The Hampshire County Sheriff's Office said three inmates released recently have died of suspected drug overdoses.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi said some inmates released at his facility committed crimes once they were out. He said his staff doesn't have time to help people towards a successful release.

"We're being robbed... of that opportunity," Cocchi said. "By taking somebody on Monday, and by Monday afternoon the courts are saying, 'Let them out by Monday night,' there's no plan. And, if you don't have a plan, usually good things don't happen. Bad things happen."

Randy Gioia said post-release overdoses and crimes are nothing new. He's the Deputy Chief Counsel of the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS). Gioia said what's needed "is getting some better programs to support people coming out of jail. We needed that before the virus and we're going to need it afterwards."

Cocchi said another reason those released are sometimes struggling is there isn't enough help from people from social service agencies — because of the pandemic.

"Many of these agencies are running with skeleton crews and staffing," Cocchi said. "They're not accepting people into their halfway houses due to the fear of COVID-19."

Gioia disagreed.

"We have social workers working on these cases," he said, "and they're looking for people who need treatment and programming when they get out. There is programming for people with substance use disorders."

This month, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that some prisoners could be released from correctional facilities, depending on charges or the violations committed. The decision does not apply to thosse who already had been sentenced. 

That came after after CPCS and several other agencies petitioned the SJC to consider early releases in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails. 

Recently, the plaintiffs asked the court to reconsider some of its ruling, and expand the pool of people who could be eligible for early release.

Also, a seperate lawsuit has been filed seeking to release those involuntarily committed to correctional facilities for treatment of an alcohol or substance abuse issue. 

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