April 14 (UPI) -- At least three states and the District of Columbia on Monday recorded their first inmate deaths due to the coronavirus disease.
Officials in Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and D.C. confirmed the deaths.
The announcements came amid mounting criticism, lawsuits and petitions calling for prisons to release inmates being held on low-level offenses in order to depopulate their facilities, which health officials have said are conducive to the spread of the coronavirus.
The Connecticut Department of Corrections identified its first inmate death late Monday in a statement as a male in his 60s serving a two-year sentence for criminal possession of a firearm.
Officials said he was approved last month for discretionary release but "an appropriate home sponsor could not be located by the offender." He was confirmed infected with the virus three days after being tested, officials said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has been lobbying Gov. Ned Lamont since at least March 10 to address concerns over the safety of inmates, and chastised he and the Department of Corrections in a letter late Monday for "callous inaction" that lead to the inmate's death.
"The state of Connecticut has a constitutional, moral and ethical responsibility to protect public health by releasing incarcerated people to prevent them from contracting COVID-19, especially people who are most vulnerable," said ACLU of Connecticut Executive Director David McGuire in a statement.
In Maryland, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced its first death was a man in his 60s who died Saturday at the Jessup Correctional Institution after being hospitalized for several weeks with an underlying health issue.
The department has confirmed 93 total infections among its prison population, with the Jessup institution accounting for the highest number of infections with 33.
The death follows repeated calls by activists and lawyers in the state for correctional institutions to reduce populations.
On April 7, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition asking the Maryland Court of Appeals to guide officials in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
"The evidence concerning COVID-19 indicates that once it enters a detention center, it spreads significantly faster inside the detention center than outside," said Chris Beyer, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, in a declaration in support of the petition. "Releasing as many inmates as possible is important to protect the health of inmates, the health of correctional facility staff, the health of healthcare workers at jails and other detention facilities, and the health of the community as a whole."
In Pennsylvania, authorities said a 67-year-old African-American man serving a life-sentence for first-degree murder died April 8. The coroner said his cause of death was acute respiratory distress from pneumonia induced by the virus.
In D.C., Deon Crowell, 51, was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week and died Monday, the same day he was hospitalized, authorities said in a statement.
Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old man with pre-existing conditions, became the first U.S. inmate last month to die from the coronavirus disease. He was being held at the Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale, La.