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ACLU Calls For Release Of Pregnant Inmates During The Coronavirus Pandemic

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking federal and state corrections officials to free pregnant inmates in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The request comes after a South Dakota woman died of the virus in federal custody in Texas on Tuesday, just weeks after giving birth.

The pandemic has prompted corrections officials in many jurisdictions around the country to release some inmates out of concerns about overcrowded conditions and exposure to the virus behind bars.

Now, the ACLU is asking governors and President Trump to free all pregnant inmates with less than a year left on their sentences.

Advocates point to the case of Andrea Circle Bear, 30, of South Dakota, who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday in federal custody. Circle Bear was serving a 26-month sentence in Fort Worth, Texas, for a drug conviction. She'd delivered a baby by cesarean section a few weeks ago, according to reports.

In a statement, the ACLU's Cynthia Roseberry called Circle Bear's death "a startling wakeup call that shows the true cost of the U.S. obsession with mass incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The ACLU estimates that some 200,000 prisoners nationwide could die of the new coronavirus unless inmate releases are escalated.

Also this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the release of pregnant inmates with nonviolent convictions and less than six months left to serve.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has said it is carefully monitoring the situation and has taken steps intended to improve safety, including suspending visits to federal prisons and screening inmates for symptoms.

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Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.