Kansas Supreme Court to hear arguments on releasing inmates

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TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court plans to hear arguments from attorneys Wednesday over a civil rights group’s attempt to force the state to release prison inmates with preexisting medical conditions making them vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

The court is reviewing a lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas for seven inmates at state prisons in Ellsworth, Lansing and Topeka. The lawsuit argues that the inmates are housed in crowded conditions with limited access to adequate medical care.

The lawsuit contends that releasing vulnerable inmates would allow proper social distancing and reduce the virus’ transmission among remaining prisoners.

The state has confirmed that 18 inmates and 21 staff at the Lansing prison have tested positive for coronavirus. An inmate at a work-release facility in Wichita also tested positive, prompting the Department of Corrections to move 113 prisoners Sunday night to Lansing.

Gov. Laura Kelly has said efforts are underway to identify inmates who are close to finishing their sentences and can be released.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause a severe illness or death.

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