LANSING, Kan. — Concerns about the coronavirus have prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to ask for the early release of seven prisoners.
Several of them are housed at Lansing Correctional Facility where already six people have died from the virus.
“I think we are selecting people who are good examples of people who are ready to be released and be successful and contribute to society if they are given the chance,” said ACLU attorney Lauren Bond who has filed the requests for clemency.
Bond is particularly concerned about the health of prisoners at Lansing where so far 817 inmates and 96 staff members have tested positive. The infection rate is so high at Lansing that a national study places Kansas as one of the top 10 states of COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons.
Sashada Makthepharak is among those Bond is hoping to gain clemency for. He is already eligible for release next year, but the ACLU is hoping to get him out now.
The 35-year-old has been in prison since he was 16. He was convicted of killing another teen in Wichita where he grew up.
“He’s perfect for clemency because he made a mistake when he was young and he’s just learned so much being in prison,” said Kayla Nguyen, Makthepharak’s wife.
Nguyen, who grew up with Makethpharak and married him six months ago, said her husband has completed his GED and vocational courses behind bars. There’s a job waiting for him once he’s out of prison.
“He’s appreciative of the prison system that has helped him become this man that he is,” she said. “I’m so proud of him.”
But she said she worries that with the prevalence of COVID-19 in Lansing, he won’t make it out alive and will never have a chance to prove to the world how much he has changed.
Bond said she’s heard similar concerns from dozens of inmates and their families, some of whom accuse the prison of not doing enough to control the virus’ spread.
“Not wearing masks, not abiding by any physical distancing requirements, plus the inmates are in these close confines with hundreds of people who may be asymptomatic,” Bond said. It’s incredibly concerning.”
Lansing officials insist they are following every health department and CDC rule to contain the virus.
The clemency requests — including one for 44-year-old Abraham Orr of Kansas City, Kansas, who was also convicted of murder as a teenager — have been sent to the governor’s office.
Each case will be vetted, and the earliest any request could be granted would be in late June.