A superior court judge on Friday ordered the release of an especially vulnerable inmate at the Massachusetts Treatment Center, just after his roommate died of coronavirus at the Bridgewater facility, his lawyer said.
Glenn Christie, 54, on Tuesday had asked the Supreme Judicial Court to set him free on compassionate grounds. Christie is in a wheelchair and suffers from kidney disease, among other serious health problems, and he feared that he was vulnerable to infection by the coronavirus. The state’s highest court then asked a superior court judge to decide the issue.
Though his several previous appeals had been turned down, Suffolk Superior Court Heidi Brieger on Friday found that circumstances have changed and Christie should be freed. She ordered that he be screened for COVID-19 and if he is healthy, that he be quarantined for 14 days at a friend’s house.
“There is a God,” said Christie through his attorney, David Rangoviz, who said his client has already been found to be infection-free. He was expecting to be released Friday, but officials said they didn’t have the necessary paperwork and he’d have to spend at least the weekend confined, his lawyer said.
The decision comes amid a significant coronavirus outbreak in the Bridgewater prison; 23 inmates and seven staff have tested positive for COVID-19, much more than any other correctional facility. Late on Thursday, the Department of Correction disclosed that an inmate in his 50s with underlying health conditions had died while hospitalized for the novel coronavirus.
That man is believed to be Christie’s roommate, Rangoviz said.
Prison officials confirmed on Friday that a second inmate had died after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. A statement from the Department of Correction said that the inmate was in his 70s, had underlying health conditions and had been incarcerated at the Massachusetts Treatment Center since 2016. Prison officials said the patient had no symptoms of COVID-19 and suffered a stroke.
Rangoviz said the judge’s order “may have saved Mr. Christie’s life.” Lawyers have been warning for weeks that inmates at the center were likely to die because of crowded and unsanitary conditions, he said
"None of these men received death sentences. This has been a foreseeable disaster for weeks,” said Rangoviz.
Treatment center inmates, most of whom have been convicted of serious sex crimes, are especially prone to infection because they share rooms, communal toilets, and showers with several other inmates.
Christie said his roommate, whom he knew only as Larry, was taken away several days ago looking “white as a ghost” after “coughing and hacking for days.” Christie said he was sure that if got the disease, he would die.
"I have no doubt, if I don’t get out of here, I’m going to get the virus,” said Christie in a e-mail, who was six months away from being released. “You can’t avoid it.”
Christie was serving time for a probation violation following his conviction for child rape and indecent assault on a child under 14. Christie may have to return to complete his sentence later, after the health crisis eases, if he loses a separate appeal.
Several other inmates told the Globe they have been kept in the dark about the outbreak at the center. Relatives and friends of some of them tried to send a Globe story detailing the conditions at the facility, but the stories were rejected as posing a safety risk to the facility.
Inmates have been in lockdown for two weeks. That means most can leave their rooms only to use the bathroom, shower, get their medication, and make short phone calls. Inmates in different units have slightly different routines.
But being in a lockdown doesn’t mean the threat of infection is eliminated or even reduced. Christie said the inmates in his unit lined up in a hallway to get their meals and medication, 50 or more at a time.
“Congregate settings like prisons are at a massive increased risk of outbreak, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” said Rangoviz.
But prison officials said they’ve taken steps to protect the inmates, including strictly limiting movement within the facility, distributing hand sanitizer, and offering in-room meals and medical treatment.