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PHOENIX — The ACLU is requesting that Arizona prisons and jails release vulnerable inmates because of the public health emergency.

State and local officials are being called on to heed public health experts’ advice and immediately release individuals in detention who are at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, the ACLU of Arizona wrote in a letter sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and all county sheriffs and county attorneys on Thursday.

In the letter, the ACLU is asking to ensure that officials are responding to recommendations put forth by public health experts, specifically calling for the immediate release from prisons and jails of communities identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as vulnerable, as well as people currently in pretrial detention, to prevent a public health crisis.

“People in jails and prisons are more vulnerable to infection. More than 40,000 people live in state prisons where the Arizona Department of Corrections has proven itself repeatedly to be incapable of providing basic medical care. Our local jails also have disturbing histories of failing to protect people from disease and illness,” said ACLU of Arizona criminal justice Staff Attorney Jared Keenan. “When someone enters state jails and prisons, they do not stop being part of our society. They do not stop being mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We have a moral duty to ensure their safety.”

In the letter, the ACLU of Arizona is calling on Ducey to immediately order the release of elderly persons, persons convicted of nonviolent offenses and others who present little or no risk to the public and to hold the Arizona Department of Corrections accountable for its response to this global pandemic.

The ACLU is asking local police chiefs and county sheriffs to cease arrests for low-level offenses and issue citations and summons in lieu of arrests so that people can return home and to exercise their authority to protect the people who are, will soon become and who may remain incarcerated.

The organization is asking county attorneys and Brnovich to use their discretion to limit the number of people who are held in jails or other confined facilities by drastically reducing their requests for pretrial detention and jail sentences.

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Jim Headley is a reporter covering breaking news, crime and justice around Pinal County. He can be reached at jheadley@pinalcentral.com.

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