In their March 23 op-ed, “Medical parole for prisoners vulnerable to coronavirus,” Nancy Gertner and John Reinstein make a compelling case for the immediate release of elderly, infirm, and immune-suppressed inmates from prison. Such inmates’ chances of surviving COVID-19 would be low, and the risk of getting this infection in prison is likely to be high. What was not mentioned is that many of these people have no families or homes to go to.
Many have been incarcerated for decades and have no idea how to survive in the modern world. They have no ability to work, and even if they were younger or able to work, their court record, or CORI, would forbid it. Without a roof over their heads, they would become victims of violence and food instability and could die of exposure. You have to ask, which fate is worse? Transitional care programs already in the community have not been designed to take care of such a large-scale rapid release of people.
The courts understand the risks of getting the coronavirus in prisons. Decisions should be coming down soon. Planning for those with no place to go needs to start immediately.
This is a time for a call for action in the entire faith community. In the early days of the HIV crisis, many of my homeless patients worked with Catholic Charities and were cared for lovingly and with respect at Seton Manor. We need a consortium of religious institutions willing to immediately supply funding and space for around 150 men and women who have not yet become sick. We need to find housing for them at various locations where overcrowding will not be an issue. This all needs to be done within weeks, not months.
Religion always showed me the sanctity of life and the dignity of a peaceful death. I implore religious leaders to come together and avert this crisis now.
Dr. David R. Stone
The writer is an infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center and Lemuel Shattuck Hospital and is associate professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.