Civil Rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson is calling for disgraced comedian and actor, Bill Cosby, to be immediately released from prison citing health reasons and his vulnerability to contracting COVID-19 while behind bars.
In an interview with The Philadelphia Tribune Jackson said authorities in the state should look at Cosby’s current condition and the risks involved in keeping him locked up during the pandemic.
“He’s 84 and blind. Who’s he going to hurt?,” Jackson said. “He should be home and free and away from all of those germs.”
Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison in 2018 on three counts of aggravated assault for drugging and sexually assaulting former basketball player, Andrea Constand, in his home in 2004. The comedian and actor’s case is the first high-profile celebrity conviction of the #MeToo era which was initiated to raise awareness of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace. Cosby also had several other women coming out to accuse him of sexual misconduct going back to almost 30 years.
In 2019, Cosby and his legal team attempted to have a Pennsylvania appeals court overturn his conviction, but it was dismissed. His lawyers also attempted securing an early release for him earlier this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that also proved futile.
“The government needs to do something,” Jackson, who said he has known the convicted felon for over 50 years, told the news outlet. “He shouldn’t still be in prison.”
Jackson also said Cosby’s humanitarian endeavors over the years should also be another reason to grant him an early release. The comedian and his wife Camille are well known philanthropists who have notably donated millions of dollars to HBCUs. In 1998, the couple donated $20 million to Spelman College – the largest individual donation to an HBCU at the time.
“He’s helped so many, many people,” Jackson said. “I’m coming forward to speak out because I believe in justice too.”
Though Gov. Tom Wolf earlier granted “temporary relief” to inmates who because of health reasons are susceptible to contracting COVID-19, Cosby was exempted as the list did not include sex offenders, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. During the interview, Jackson, however, made mention of the 41 pardons President Trump has so far issued over the last couple of weeks.
In a statement to the news outlet and following Jackson’s demand for Cosby’s release, department press secretary Maria A. Bivens said it was not within their power to release him.
“The PA DOC [Department of Corrections] does not have the authority to release inmates. The authority to release would come as a court order, pardon, commutation or parole action. Based on the reprieve criteria exempting sex offenders, inmate Cosby is not eligible for a reprieve,” Bivens said.
That notwithstanding, Cosby and wife – via his publicist – extended their gratitude to Jackson for “for his courageousness and his support” in a statement.
“Mr. & Mrs. Cosby are forever grateful to Reverend Jackson and his family because he has been working feverishly to get the State of PA to release Mr. Cosby, since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, back in April,” the statement said.