Kentucky to release some inmates in response to coronavirus

FRANKFORT, Ky.
(AP) — Kentucky will release nearly 200 inmates in the first phase of
reducing prison populations in response to the coronavirus crisis, Gov.
Andy Beshear’s administration said Thursday.

The
governor signed an executive order to shorten the sentences of 186
inmates determined to be more susceptible to contracting the virus, said
J. Michael Brown, secretary of Beshear’s executive Cabinet. The inmates
were convicted of nonviolent offenses, Beshear said.

The
prisoners will be screened to ensure they’re not showing symptoms of
the virus before their release, Brown said. Once released, they’ll have
to go into quarantine for 14 days, he said.

The
action was one of several announced by Beshear amid another spike in
the state’s coronavirus cases and a double-digit increase in the death
toll.

The
governor asked school districts to extend school closings until early
May. He halted overnight stays at state parks and announced plans to
construct a field hospital large enough for at least 2,000 beds at the
state fairgrounds in Louisville.

Meanwhile, surging layoffs led Kentucky residents to file for unemployment benefits in staggering numbers last week as the coronavirus crisis continued to wreak havoc on the economy.

A total of 112,726 Kentuckians filed initial unemployment claims last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. The dramatic escalation has left the state’s unemployment system struggling to keep pace with the need for assistance from people suddenly out of work as businesses shut down or scale back and residents stay home in response to the virus.ADVERTISEMENT

The
previous week, 49,023 Kentucky residents had sought jobless benefits in
the state of nearly 4.5 million people. In a recent week before the
virus started damaging the economy, fewer than 2,800 unemployment claims
were filed in Kentucky.

Beshear
recommended that school districts prolong school closings through at
least May 1 because of the virus. The governor previously had asked
schools to close for at least two weeks in March, then extended that
closure until April 20.

“This is further sacrifice by our kids and by our educators, but it’s absolutely necessary,” he said during his daily briefing.

Beshear
reported 100 new coronavirus cases statewide and 11 more virus-related
deaths. Total Kentucky cases since the pandemic began approached 800 and
the death toll reached at least 30.

Most
people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can
include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes
requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults
and people with other health problems.

The prisoner-release order is meant to protect prison employees and inmates, Brown said.

Nearly
750 more inmates have been identified for a second phase of releases
that could occur soon, Brown said. All the inmates are within six months
of completing their sentences, he said.

The
inmates would face having the rest of their sentences reimposed if they
commit new offenses or fail to meet other conditions once released, he
said.

Beshear
announced plans to construct a field hospital at the fairgrounds in
Louisville as officials brace for a continued escalation of coronavirus
cases.

“Our
goal is to be ready when the surge comes,” he said. “That doesn’t mean
that we wait until we don’t have enough space and then try to put this
together.”

On
the economic front, like many other states, Kentucky’s unemployment
benefit enrollment system has been clogged by the surging number of
claims. Beshear has asked Kentuckians applying to be patient as the
state contends with the crush of applications for benefits.

“We’ve
received a number of complaints because we haven’t been able to move
fast enough,” Beshear said Wednesday. “That’s on us; it’s an
unprecedented time. It’s an amount of claims that we’ve never seen
before. But you know what? It’s our job to fix it.”

The
state continues ramping up efforts to meet the demand for jobless
assistance, said Josh Benton, deputy secretary of the state’s Education
and Workforce Development Cabinet.

He
said the state revamped its website offering a centralized place for
information about unemployment insurance and staffing at the call center
has grown dramatically.

In a Thursday tweet, Beshear urged people to complete applications online, if possible, to help the state process more claims.

The state wants to prioritize use of phone lines for people needing to update PINs or assistance filing claims, Benton said.

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Source: Mountain Top