ACLU, local families ask for inmates to be released due to coronavirus

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A controversial request for leniency, a nationwide call from the American Civil Liberties Union, and local families, to release some prisoners before the coronavirus spreads rapidly thru the system.

The women we heard from were already nervous for their loved ones before a prisoner near Kansas City tested positive for the virus. Now they're getting desperate... but are hopeful the request the ACLU issued last week will help.

"I am terrified," said Nikolai Neal.

Neal knows her husband Zach hasn't been a perfect person. He's been in and out of Missouri prisons for 15 years.

"They're still human beings," she said.

Zach is set to get out again in 2022, but Nikolai's biggest fear is him getting sick with COVID-19 now.

"I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to pick him up, and if I do, he's going to be in a body bag," Neal said.

Neal said inmates aren't given any defense against the coronavirus.

“When I spoke with a [correctional officer], as well as the warden, both of them told me that hand sanitizer and cleaners were not available for inmates," Neal said.

Her fear got even worse Monday when the state announced a prisoner near Kansas City tested positive for the virus.

"It's going to take one case and it's going to spread like wildfire," said Randhelia Myer.

Myer's son Justin is also serving a prison sentence in Bowling Green. She shares Nikolai's concerns.

"They're not going to have the medical facilities there and they're not going to have the staff to take care of those inmates who deserve the same treatment as we do," Myer said.

That's why they'd both like the state to follow Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania's leads, releasing some non-violent inmates early to slow the spread within prison walls. Missouri's ACLU sent a nine-page letter in support of that plan.

Click HERE for that statement.

"They can't social distance. They're in such close quarters," Myer said.

The Missouri Department of Corrections gave us some answers to our questions via email.

The DOC said every prison has a pandemic plan, a strict sanitizing schedule and access to cleaning supplies, but the DOC ignored our requests for interviews.

Click HERE for more information on how the DOC is preparing for the coronavirus.

Today, Missouri Governor Mike Parson did respond to our question in a live-streamed news conference. He said he's not considering any sort of early release, despite the outbreak.

"People are incarcerated for a reason and that's what the law is," Parson said.

Neal and Myer understand the law but they're still hoping some human compassion wins out before it's too late.

"We feel like we've already paid a huge debt to society and we don't want to lose him over the COVID and that's what my fear is," Myer said.

Parson said in that news conference, the state is prepared for any outbreak to happen in prisons.

“Probably in our prison systems, right now, is where they should be," Parson said.