Prison and jail officials trying to stem the spread of the new coronavirus behind bars are releasing thousands of prisoners to await trial or serve their sentences at home, spurring a debate over public health versus public safety—and producing some seemingly inconsistent outcomes.
Rufus Rochell, 68, who is serving a 35-year sentence for a drug conviction, said he expects to be released from a federal prison in Florida as soon as Tuesday to serve the rest of his term at his sister’s home.
Chad Marks, a 41-year-old serving time for drug crimes at FMC Lexington, a medical center for federal prisoners in Lexington, Ky., said in an email he has had little success so far in trying to help fellow inmates win release under the guidelines.
“It’s like the luck of the draw,” said Amy Ralston Povah, the founder of the pro-clemency group CAN-DO Foundation. “We’ll have wardens in certain prisons that will get right on it, and some that won’t release a soul.”
Meanwhile on Monday, Mr. Rochell had nearly completed his quarantine at FCI Coleman Medium prison in Sumterville, Fla., and was awaiting release to live with his sister, Cheryl Bolen, outside Gainesville. He and his advocates have spent years seeking his freedom.
Prison officials called Ms. Bolen to let her know they would be driving by her home to ensure it was equipped for her brother to be monitored during his release.
Mr. Rochell, who has been behind bars for 32 years, said he planned to try to help other people, including inmates, escape the virus.
“I’ve been at war in here myself, being away from my family, and fighting for my release,” he said. “If made it, I’m sure if we do all the right things that doctors are experts are asking us to do, we can survive it also.”