Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry is approving modified sentences for some state prison inmates to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Deberry’s office has agreed to modify the sentences of nine convicted drug traffickers, spokesperson Sarah Willets told the 9th Street Journal. Judges have approved the reduced sentences.
Deberry said in a news release that her goal is to identify inmates who can be “safely” released from prison. Her office will review those set to be released soon, convicted of non-violent crimes and those vulnerable to illness due to age.
“Releasing individuals who do not pose a danger to the public can prevent them from being exposed in prison, create a safer environment for those who remain there, and help protect our entire community during this pandemic,” Deberry said in the release.
Deberry said coronavirus outbreaks in state prisons made this step necessary. Social distancing is not easy to achieve in jails and prisons, she said, which could allow the disease to spread quickly and put inmates, staff and their families in harm’s way. She also said inmates are more likely to have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Deberry’s office is also mulling a few other motions for appropriate relief filed before the pandemic based on other issues, and intends to “treat these requests with the same urgency as those filed in light of COVID-19.”
In March, Deberry announced measures to reduce the county jail population. She moved to release or modify the sentences of those in the jail who don’t pose a public safety threat, are above 60 years old or have underlying health conditions.
There are currently 260 inmates in the jail, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, well below its capacity of 736. There is no target jail population that Deberry is trying to achieve, Willetts said.
“We all have a responsibility to try to stem the spread of COVID-19,” Deberry said in the release. “Releasing individuals who do not pose a danger to the public can prevent them from being exposed in prison, create a safer environment for those who remain there, and help protect our entire community during this pandemic.”