Updated May 12. The information below has been collected for the Center for Science and Justice from state corrections departments’ official websites, by Deniz Ariturk, recent graduate of the MA program in Bioethics and Science Policy at Duke University. States’ responses to COVID-19 have been quite varied, as has been the amount of information they provide on their website. As such, the list below may not be a comprehensive picture of how each state has changed its operations at its prisons in response to COVID-19  (A UCLA Law database collects additional information). For a running list of news stories on actions that may not be included in official state prison websites, please take a look at our blog post on media coverage of state COVID-related prison releases/policy.

Visitation Suspension

  • Family and volunteer visitation has been suspended in all state and federal prisons. The suspensions continue in all states as of May 12, including in states where stay-at-home orders are being lifted. This is the only information available on West Virginia’s official corrections website. Below are the most current updates available from the remaining states:
  • All states have provided an alternative method for inmates to talk to loved ones during the suspension of visitation.
    • The alternative methods are varied. For instance, Iowa is providing a single free 5-minute phone call per week, while Utah and Texas are offering 10 15-minute phone calls. Some states offer the possibility of free video visits. Kansas provides the best option: 3 free 30-minute video visits per week. May 4 Update: In California, inmates now have access to unlimited free calls two days a week.
    • In some states, the facilities are unable to keep up with the amount of calls inmates want to make. Pennsylvania now suggests that inmates make video call arrangements a month ahead of time.
  • 10 states have suspended attorney visitation and 23 states have not.
    • New Hampshire is providing free electronic visitation to make up for the suspension of attorney visits.

Work Assignments and Programming

  • Work release assignments in the community have been suspended in at least 19 states:
  • Inmates in at least six states continue to go on their work release assignments, including, in some cases, at work plants:
  • No information about work release suspension is available for the remaining 25 states.
  • Inmates at many correctional facilities are now producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for DOC staff and inmates, even as PPE sometimes remains unavailable for inmates themselves.
    • Inmates in Nebraska and Nevada are producing hand sanitizer but do not have access to it themselves because of its alcohol content.
    • Inmates in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Oregon, and New Hampshire also don’t have access to hand sanitizer and are making cloth masks in close quarters in prison factories.
    • New Jersey, Idaho, and Kentucky have also not provided hand sanitizer to inmates.
  • Educational and rehabilitative programming has been suspended or limited in many states. Some states are making arrangements to provide virtual alternatives.
    • Minnesota is making efforts to provide virtual programming opportunities.
    • In South Carolina, the Palmetto Unified School District is conducting digital remote classes for inmates enrolled in the GED program.
    • In Oregon, inmates whose education, treatment, work assignments, and other pointed programs have been impacted will continue to receive points towards the performance recognition award system.
    • California is providing online, in-cell assignments as alternatives to educational classes “where possible.”
    • Nevada is providing distance learning opportunities in collaboration with local universities and school districts as of April 21.

Health Screening and Medical Co-Pays

  • All states have a health screening process for staff and new intakes entering the prison that involves temperature checks and/or self-reports of COVID-19 symptoms.
    • Nebraska does not have access to thermometers due to a delayed shipment and as such is not conducting temperature checks.
    • The health screenings are unlikely to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and as such do not eliminate the risk of its entry into the prisons.
  • Most states have waived co-pays for testing and treatment for COVID-19 symptoms in an effort to make sure inmates can reach out to and get treated by health professionals.
    • This appears to be insufficient to make all patients report their symptoms, as is indicated by the deaths of two inmates in Michigan who were found dead in their cells. These individuals had never come forward to prison staff and had not been tested. A news article suggests this may be due to inmates’ fear of being sent to solitary when confirmed to have COVID-19.

Confirmed Cases and Deaths

  • All states except for Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and North Dakota now have confirmed cases among their staff and/or inmate population.
    • There are positive cases among the inmate population in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
    • There are positive cases among prison staff members only in Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Wyoming.
  • Cases among staff are usually identified before those among inmates, suggesting that the virus can enter prisons via correctional staff despite screening efforts.
  • Inmates who test positive are placed in isolation and their facilities often placed under quarantine or lockdown.
  • Once in the prison, the virus tends to spread quickly.
    • Connecticut had its first confirmed case among staff on March 23 and its first case among the inmate population on March 30. By April 13, the state had 104 cases among staff and 166 among inmates.
    • North Carolina had its first confirmed case among inmates on April 1. By April 12, the state had 37 cases across 5 facilities.
    • Louisiana had it first confirmed case among inmates on March 28 and was up to 55 cases by April 12.
    • California had its first confirmed case among inmates on March 25 and was up to 55 cases by April 13.
    • Michigan had its first confirmed case among inmates on March 22. By April 11, the state had recorded 391 cases among inmates. On April 19, the state had 539 positive cases.
  • 27 states and 16 federal prisons have reported COVID-19 related deaths among inmates:
    • According to official counts, 1 state prison inmate in Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, and Montana; 2 in Kentucky, Maryland, South Carolina, and Tennessee; 3 in Kansas and Pennsylvania; 4 in Delaware; 5 in Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Virginia; 6 in Connecticut; 9 in Florida and Louisiana; 12 in Georgia, and Illinois; 15 in New York; 16 in Indiana; 30 in Texas; 41 in New Jersey; 48 in Ohio; and 54 in Michigan have died.
    • In Michigan, the first inmate to die did not report their symptoms and was confirmed to be COVID-positive after being found dead in their cell. The same happened with an inmate death at another Michigan facility ten days later.
    • According to the Bureau of Prisons, 49 inmates have died under federal custody. The first COVID-19 related death was reported on March 28 at Oakdale I FCI in Louisiana. Since then, 6 more inmates have died at the same facility; 9 at Elkton FCI in Ohio; 7 at Butner I FCI in North Carolina and Terminal Island FCI in California; 5 in Fort Wort FMC in Texas; 3 in Milan FCI in Michigan; 2 in Lompoc USP in California; and 1 in Behavioral Systems Southwest, Inc. in Arizona, Carswell FMC in Texas, Danbury FCI in Connecticut, Davens FMC Massachusetts, GEO Care, Inc. in New York, Lexington FMC in Kentucky, Oakdale II FCI in Louisiana, Oklahoma City FCT in Oklahoma, and Yazoo City FTC in Mississippi.

COVID-19 Testing in Prison

  • Availability of COVID-19 tests affects facilities’ ability to test other inmates and, consequently, the reliability of their case reports. States that are implementing mass testing policies report higher case numbers than states with few tests completed.
    • Many states are implementing mass testing policies to assess the situation in their prisons. Most, but not all, of these states have seen their case numbers increase drastically as the majority of tests come back positive.
      • Ohio now has the highest number of confirmed cases in its prisons. The number of cases spiked after state officials started testing every inmate across three correctional institutions. As of April 19, the state has 2400 positive cases in the inmate population. April 26 Update: 3,853 of 5,358 tests have returned positive. May 4 Update: 4,292 of 6,834 tests have returned positive. May 11 Update: 4,434 of 7,528 tests are positive.
      • California’s case count increased rapidly after a mass testing of 100 inmates at California State Prison, LA County. The number of confirmed inmate cases in the state went up from 55 on April 13 to 155 on April 18. As of May 4, the state has 309 confirmed positives. As of May 11, the state has 521 confirmed positives.
      • In Arizona, 63 of 211 tests have returned positive (May 3).
      • In Arkansas, there are 860 confirmed positives among inmates (May 1).
      • In Colorado, 138 out of 255 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of April 30, 260 of 526 tests have returned positive. As of May 8, 358 of 1,588 tests have returned positive. Prior to the mass testing, only 8 offenders were confirmed positive.
      • In Florida, all inmates are offered, but not mandated, to take tests. As of May 3, 373 of 748 tests have returned positive. As of May 11, 723 out of 4,166 tests are positive.
      • In Indiana, 584 of 1,123 tests are positive (May 11).
      • In Iowa, 15 of 270 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of May 3, 20 of 397 tests are positive. As of May 11, 21 of 558 tests are positive.
      • In Michigan, 1,325 of 2,381 tests returned positive (April 26). As of May 3, 2,025 of 4,462 tests are positive. As of May 11, 2,164 of 8,421 tests are positive.
      • In New Jersey, 118 of 149 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of May 1, 175 of 220 tests are positive. As of May 11, 264 of 594 tests are positive.
      • In New Mexico, unlike most states that only rely on employee self-reports, all staff are being tested by the DOC. However, only 25% of the inmate population is being tested. As of May 8, 2,486 staff members and 800 inmates have been tested and no results have been reported.
      • In New York, 296 of 470 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of May 4, 401 of 593 tests are positive. As of May 11, 434 of 633 tests are positive. Inmates are tested only when they are symptomatic.
      • In North Carolina, mass testing of every inmate at Neuse Correctional Facility went into effect on April 16. The next day, state-wide confirmed cases jumped from 58 to 149. As of April 19, the state has 274 cases among inmates. As of April 26, 554 of 1072 tests are positive. As of May 4, 624 of 1213 tests are positive. As of May 11, 642 of 1,294 tests are positive.
      • In Pennsylvania, 175 of 595 tests are positive (May 11).
      • In Tennessee, 669 of 3,683 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of May 4, 1,957 of 5,907 tests are positive. As of May 11, 1,840 of 15,594 tests are positive.
      • In Texas, 1,275 of 1,576 tests have returned positive (May 4). As of May 11, 1,711 of 2,327 tests are positive. The state is conducting targeted testing of asymptomatic offenders who may be vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their age or preexisting conditions.
      • In Vermont, all inmates in a facility that reports a confirmed case are tested. 28 of 222 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of May 4, 45 of 382 tests are positive. As of May 11, 48 of 386 tests are positive.
      • In Washington, 14 of 305 tests have returned positive (April 26). As of May 4, 23 of 340 tests are positive. As of May 11, 26 of 373 tests are positive.
      • In Wisconsin, 19 of 148 tests are positive (May 4). As of May 11, 20 of 164 tests are positive.
    • Minnesota does not have enough tests, and consequently is not testing every suspected case. Instead, the state is using a “presumed positive” status for inmates who have (1) reported COVID-19 symptoms and (2) had close contact with someone who was confirmed to have COVID-19. April 26 Update: The state implemented a mass testing policy and 30 of 212 tests have returned positive. May 4 Update: 82 of 333 tests have returned positive. May 11 Update: 97 of 488 tests are positive and 38 inmates are presumed positive.
    • Maine, Hawaii, and New Hampshire are three of the only states with no confirmed cases among inmates, but only 24 tests have been completed in Maine, 21 in Hawaii, and 14 in New Hampshire as of May 11.
    • In Delaware and Nebraska, correctional staff members have tested positive, according to self-reports from those individuals. Despite this confirmation that the virus has entered prison grounds, only 40 inmates have been tested in Delaware and 3 in Nebraska as of May 11.
    • States have adopted different policies regarding testing offenders who are getting released. Some report no policy about testing inmates before they reenter the community, while some mandate that inmates receive a negative test before they are released.
      • In California, seven inmates were released while positive as of May 11. The state does not indicate whether the Department of Corrections was aware of their status before they were released.
      • In Michigan, inmates scheduled for parole who test positive are not being released until they are cleared by healthcare. This will require them to be at least 14 days from the onset of symptoms, even if that is past their scheduled parole date.
      • In Oklahoma, all discharging inmates are now being tested a week ahead of their release date, after an inmate’s positive results came in hours after he was released. Nonetheless, the state DOC underlines that they have “no legal authority” to hold inmates past their release date.

Suspension of New Intakes from County Jails

  • 16 states have suspended new intakes from local jails in an effort to reduce the entry of COVID-19 into the prisons.
    • Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin have now adopted this policy.
    • California projects that their suspension will reduce the prison population by 3,000 within 30 days.
    • Florida resumed accepting new intakes on April 3 after a 2-week suspension.
    • Alabama’s 30-day moratorium on new intakes ended on April 20th, when the state began a “multi-stage intake pilot program” that limits the number of intakes and isolates every new inmate for 14 days.
    • Most states with this policy do not mention how it will affect their jail population. Colorado reports that their Department of Corrections will work with counties on a case-by-case basis to accept inmates from jails that are faced with overcrowding or public safety issues.
  • Rhode Island admitted 2 new inmates the week of April 20 that were confirmed to be COVID-19 positive in the community.

Early/Expedited Release from Prison

  • 26 states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin) are considering and/or implementing early release to reduce the prison population and the risk of transmission of COVID-19.The corrections departments in these states are following governors’ executive orders and/or collaborating with their Board of Pardons and Parole to identify cases for early release. Criteria for release typically include being close to one’s release date, having a verifiable home address, not being committed for a violent offense, and being high risk for COVID-19.
    • In Arkansas, certain rules regarding county jail backup and early parole or discharge were suspended for the duration of the public health emergency as they were identified as hindering the DOC’s ability to render maximum assistance to citizens.
    • In California, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’ expedited release plan and the suspension of new intakes has collectively reduced the state prison population by 6,758 between March 25 and April 13. The expedited release plan involves the expedited transition to parole of nearly 3,500 incarcerated people who have 60 days or less to serve and are not convicted for a violent crime, a sex offense, or domestic violence.
    • In Colorado, the governor’s March 25 executive order gives DOC more flexibility to release inmates into Intensive Supervisory Parole (ISP-I) and Special Needs Parole for medically vulnerable offenders. Following the executive order, the DOC released am April 23 memo detailing the changes made to criteria for special needs/medically necessary parole, ISP-I, and earned time credit. The memo was renewed on May 6 to reflect the extension of the executive order.
    • In Connecticut, the community release risk assessment process prioritizes those considered high risk for COVID-19, and release options will be expanded “if necessary.” The DOC is in partnership with community organizations to help people avoid homelessness upon reentry. 210 inmates were released from the state’s prisons between March 25 and April 1. According to a May 5 update, there has been a 72% increase in discretionary (early) release in March compared to February 2020. In March, 522 inmates received discretionary releases, which is more than every previous month dating back one year. In April, 545 inmates received discretionary releases. The prison population dropped by 1,455 between March 1 and May 1. Part of this is due to the 10% reduction in pre-trial jail population. 540 offenders were transitioned from a halfway house to their home between March and May. As of May 1st, the state has 4,825 people under community supervision, the largest number since 2011.
    • In Georgia, the parole board is considering early release for up to 200 non-violent inmates who are within 180 days of their parole date.
    • In Hawaii, up to 100 state inmates will be transferred to the federal detention center in Honolulu to alleviate overcrowding, and 52 individuals with release dates before 6/30 are being considered for release. The Department of Public Safety is following the petition from the Office of the Public Defender to the Hawaii Supreme Court requesting the release of certain inmates. On April 15, the Supreme Court issued an interim order calling for the continued coordination between all parties involved, to submit a list by Monday, April 20 of select probation and pre-trial jail inmates for court considered release. Prosecutors have three days to submit motions to object. The courts will determine by April 28 who may be considered for release. April 24 Update: There are 71 cases under review for parole based on the considerations outlined in the Hawaii Supreme Court’s order. 27 of the 71 cases have established release dates within the next two weeks. HPA is also assessing community custody and minimum custody populations across the state, populations with pre-existing conditions as well as elderly inmates, as submitted by the Department of Public Safety to HPA for parole consideration.
    • In Idaho, the parole board is re-reviewing parole eligible inmates and those who are within 180 days of their release date.
    • In Illinois, the governor issued an April 6 executive order allowing the time period for medical furloughs to be extended for up to the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations. In an effort to protect medically vulnerable offenders from the risk posed by COVID-19 within a correctional setting, the Illinois Department of Corrections is considering offenders for medical furlough who meet the required medical and public safety criteria. As of May 5, 148 individuals housed within Adult Transition Centers were granted furloughs.
    • In Iowa, the DOC is working with the board of parole to safely transition as many inmates as possible to community supervision. Priority is being given to those who are nearing discharge, are lower risk, and/or have a suitable living arrangement upon reentry. Currently, prisons in Iowa are approximately 20.0% above designed capacity. During the week of April 6, the prison population decreased by 26.
    • In Louisiana, the DOC created a COVID-19 furlough review panel on April 14. The panel will consider furloughs for certain nonviolent/non-sex inmates within six months of their release date.
    • In Maine, placement into Supervised Community Confinement (SCCP) has been streamlined; those who are less than two years away from their release date, have been discipline free for 90 days or more, have served a designated period of time within a State managed facility, and have an approve transition plan are eligible to be considered. The prison population has decreased by 11% and the jail population by 41% between January 4 and May 9.
    • In Maryland, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is “prepared to act on” the governor’s executive order implementing alternative correctional detention and supervision (April 20).The Maryland Parole Commission, the Division of Correction, and the Division of Parole and Probation are working collaboratively to identify those inmates eligible for expedited release or parole pursuant to the Executive Order.
    • In Minnesota, the commissioner of corrections is using his authority to place inmates on conditional medical release and work release. Inmates whose underlying medical condition puts them “at risk of grave harm from COVID-19” and who do not pose a threat to the public are eligible for medical release. The Commissioner is also actively considering how he can exercise work release authority in a way that protects communities but that also helps to minimize risk for those who are incarcerated. April 26 Update: The DOC is implementing a temporary policy to expedite release of certain inmates. It’s a simple expansion of Minnesota’s longstanding transitional work release program that will maintain community safety and better protect both staff and those who remain incarcerated. To be eligible, inmates must be within 90 days of their release date, be rated low or medium risk to re-offend, and have an approved place to live, have access to a landline or internet at the approved release address.
    • In Montana, the DOC is following the governor’s directive to support the parole board in considering early release to anyone who is 65 or older; has medical conditions that place them at high risk; is pregnant; or is nearing their release date, as long as they do not pose a public safety risk and can have their medical and supervision needs met in the community.
    • In New Jersey, the governor’s executive order involves granting temporary emergency home medical confinement to certain at-risk inmates who have not committed a serious offense during the public health emergency. Eligible populations include individuals aged 60 years older; individuals with high-risk medical conditions, based on CDC COVID-19 guidance; individuals who will complete their sentences within the next three months; and individuals who were denied parole within the last year. Each case is to be assessed by an Emergency Medical Review Committee that would make individualized determinations of whether home confinement would better serve an eligible inmate.
    • In New Mexico, the governor’s April 6 executive order directs the Corrections Department to compile a list of incarcerated individuals who are eligible for early release. All individuals deemed by NMCD as eligible are ordered to receive a gubernatorial commutation of the remainder of their prison sentence. To be eligible, individuals must no more than 30 days away from their release date; have a parole plan in place; and not be convicted of a sex crime, a felony DWI, domestic abuse, assault on a peace officer, or firearms enhancement.
    • In North Carolina, up to 500 people will be transitioned to serve the remainder of their sentence under community supervision. To be considered, individuals must be non-violent offenders who are pregnant, age 65 and older with underlying health conditions, female age 50 and older with a release date in 2020, already on home leave with a release date in 2020, or on work release with a release date in 2020. As of April 27, 150 people were released on this policy since March 1. As of May 1, prisons are enacting a safety initiative to give some infraction-free offenders three days off their sentences for each month they do not commit a disciplinary-worthy offense. This “incentive time” sentence reduction credit is intended to encourage good behavior, particularly as the staff deals with COVID-19 issues.
  • In North Dakota, the DOC is working to create opportunities to transition eligible residents with upcoming release dates and/or serious medical conditions to the community. Some of these individuals are being released through parole and others are transitioned to approved locations to finish their sentence in the community. The state’s DOC director is quoted in an editorial about the need to release people from jails and prison.
  • In Ohio, the governor asked judges to consider release of only 38 out of 49,000 inmates (23 are women who are pregnant or in prison with an infant and 15 are prisoners over 60 years old with 120 days or less before the end of their sentence).
  • In Pennsylvania, steps to reduce prison population include furloughing paroled individuals from centers to home plans, working with the parole board to maximize parole releases, reviewing parole detainers for individuals in county jails and state prisons, expediting the release process for anyone with a pending home plan, and reviewing inmates within the state prison system who are beyond their minimum sentences. April 10 Update: Gov. Tom Wolf is issuing temporary reprieves for Department of Corrections inmates who meet criteria for the Temporary Program to Reprieve Sentences of Incarceration. As of April 19, 24 people have received reprieves and the state’s prison population is 708 below last month’s. April 26 Update: 117 people have received temporary reprieves and the state prison population is 166 below last month’s. May 4 Update: 125 people have received temporary reprieves and the prison population is 145 below last month’s May 11 Update: 144 people have received reprieves and the prison population is 429 below last month’s.
  • In Rhode Island, the Department of Corrections is working with the Courts, the Attorney General’s office, and the Governor on the Public Defender’s petition to the Supreme Court to release inmates who have 90 days or less to serve. April 9 Update: while the courts have released some inmates who were close to their release dates, “the fact is that most ACI inmates will be serving their sentences at the ACI.” April 16 Update: The inmate total population is at 57.4% capacity. This is the lowest it has been in thirty years.
  • In Utah, the Department of Corrections is making referrals to the board of parole regarding the early release of some offenders. Originally referrals were being made for those who have a release date within 90 days, but the timeline was recently reevaluated and increased to 180 days. All offenders released early must have an approved address. 80 people have been identified as of March 26.
  • In Vermont, early release is being considered on the basis of minimum release dates, program requirements, victim concerns, risk to self, risk to community, medical need, and additional risk factors. The inmate population went down from 1,649 on March 13 to 1,373 on May 4.
  • In Virginia, the DOC announced that it is implementing an Inmate Early Release Plan (April 24) using its legislative authority granted through the governor’s executive order. The plan will allow inmates to be discharged from incarceration or placed into a lower level of supervision like probation. The factors that determine one’s eligibility are proximity to one’s release date, medical condition, offense history, having a viable home plan, good time earning level, having no active detainers, not being convicted of sexually violent offenses, and having a low or medium recidivism risk as validated by the COMPAS tool. As of May 11, 231 offenders have been approved for early release.
  • In Washington, three efforts are in place to reduce the prison population: commutations, rapid reentry, and work release furlough. On April 15, the governor issued emergency commutation to allow for the release individuals convicted of non-violent offenses or drug or alcohol offenses and whose projected release date is prior to June 29, 2020. In addition to the Governor’s commutation, based on Governor’s Proclamation 20-50 Reducing Prison Population, Secretary Sinclair will take additional measures to provide more physical distancing. The Rapid Reentry Program allows incarcerated individuals an opportunity to serve up to six months of their sentence of confinement in the community on electronic monitoring. Individuals are included who meet CDC guidelines of those at higher risk for health complications related to COVID-19. Finally, the DOC secretary will use his statutory furlough authority to grant emergency furloughs to incarcerated individuals in work release settings. As of April 18, no individuals have received commutations or rapid reentry and 41 have been furloughed. April 24 Update: 410 people have received commutations, 21 have been released through rapid reentry, and 54 have been furloughed from work release to community. May 11 Update: 422 people have received commutations, 356 have been released through rapid reentry, and 66 have been furloughed.
  • In Wisconsin, supervision holds on 1,148 non-violent misdemeanants and others in custody that qualify for Certain Earned Release (these non-violent persons had less than one year to serve in prison and will be on community supervision) were released. 65 individuals participating in an Alternative for Revocation (ATR) at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) were identified to be released on April 2, 2020.
  • 13 states (Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, South Carolina, South Dakota) explicitly state that they do not intend to have any early releases due to COVID-19.
    • Delaware is not considering early release because their facilities are not overcrowded and their prison population has decreased by 25% over the past 6 years. This contrasts with the approach taken by Maine, and Rhode Island, two other states with prisons under capacity, where early release is being considered.
    • Nebraska reports that inmates “have a legal obligation to fulfill the entirety of their felony sentences” and that “there are no plans to release inmates early due to illness.”
    • In New Hampshire, the requirements for administrative home confinement and medical parole have not changed due to COVID-19.
    • The Florida, Oregon, and South Carolina Departments of Corrections remind people that they have no statutory authority to release inmates prior to the completion of their sentence, and that the governor and the Parole Board have that authority.
    • The governor of Oregon does not intend to consider clemency in response to COVID-19. A few people may qualify for compassionate release, if they are: (a) suffering from a terminal illness; or (b) elderly and permanently incapacitated in such a manner that the individual is unable to move from place to place without the assistance of another person.
  • Some juvenile justice divisions are also considering early release.
    • In Maine, all juveniles are eligible to be released into community reintegration, and the program has been enhanced in response to COVID-19. The juvenile corrections population decreased by 50% between January 4 and May 9.
    • North Carolina reports that they plan on “decreasing the number of youth in detention through the utilization of electronic monitoring.”
    • In California, the governor’s April 14 executive order addresses the release and reentry process at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The executive order calls for all discharge and reentry hearings to be held via videoconference to minimize the youth’s and other participants’ exposure to COVID-19. Additionally, notification given to county probation departments, the court in the county of commitment, and the youth’s legal counsel will be shortened from 60 days to 30 days before holding a discharge consideration hearing held by the Board of Juvenile Hearings (BJH). The order also allows for reentry consideration hearings—normally held in the county court—to take place at the DJJ facility where the youth are housed.
    • The Texas Juvenile Justice Department halted new admissions on April 14.
  • The US Attorney General directed the Federal Bureau of prisons to prioritize the use of home confinement on March 26. On April 3, he expanded the directive to “all at-risk inmates—not only those who were previously eligible for transfer” at three federal prisons with outbreaks.

Reducing Arrests and Jail Detention

  • South Dakota, Louisiana, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, and New York report state-wide efforts to reduce arrests for certain non-violent offenses such as technical parole violations (which include things like not being able to locate employment, establish a residence, see one’s parole officer in person, etc.) and/or release people who were arrested for those offenses from local jails.
    • In South Dakota, an April 9 Executive Order by the governor temporarily suspends South Dakota Codified Law 16-22-28, which is the statutory provision requiring the Department of Corrections to impose certain sanctions for parole violations regarding a positive urinalysis test for a controlled substance. This will allow the department to institute a policy which may include an alternative sanction or deferment of the sanction.
    • In Louisiana, probation and parole (P&P) officers are limiting the use of parole holds and revocation procedures to serious/dangerous offenses. The state is also limiting arrests and jail detention for non-serious non-violent charges and offenses and suspending the use of short term jail sanctions ordinarily used for technical violations. For those already confined in jail for one of the above reasons, P&P has recommended to the judge (if on probation) or the parole board (if on parole) to release the nonviolent/non-sex offender from technical revocation jail sanctions, and/or, if applicable, allow the offender to release on bond regarding the new pending charges that are less serious/dangerous offenses, such as non-violent/non-sex offense charges. These measures have resulted in the removal/release of approximately 2000 detainer holds off of people in jail for probation or parole related sanctions or pending revocations and in the release of some of these people from jail and parish facilities who did not have any other non-related outstanding charge/bond/warrant restricting their release.
    • In Colorado, arrests of parolees for low-level technical parole violations have been suspended, and there are plans to release people with low-level technical parole violations from jail. People with such low level technical violations may be dealt with through alternative interventions such as referral to treatment, increased contact with parole officer, electronic monitoring, and house arrest.
    • In Hawaii, an April 2 Supreme Court order suspends intermittent sentence incarceration (weekends in jail). The state’s jail population decreased by 619 from 2189 on March 2 to 1570 on April 2. April 24 Update: The jail population has decreased by 716 since March 2. May 8 Update: The jail population has decreased by 823 since March 2. This is due to the efforts made by the State Judiciary, county police departments and PSD’s Intake Service Division as they work together to limit the number of people requiring admittance into the jails. All decreases were pursuant to independently issued court orders.
    • In Minnesota, the DOC has “significantly reduced” release revocations for technical violations of release and is instead focusing on restructured community-based supervision as a response to technical violations.
    • In New York, low-level technical parole violators who have adequate housing and do not present an undue risk to public safety are being released from jail. This policy could impact up to 1,100 people. The state has also temporarily modified the issuance of violations to ensure that people who would be subject to release under these protocols are not detained in the first place.
  • Some states without official changes to their arrest/release policies have also seen a reduction in their jail populations, due in large part to social changes caused by the pandemic and social isolation.
    • In Connecticut, the pre-trial population dropped between 10% between March 1st and April 29th from 3049 to 2753.
    • In Delaware, the incarcerated population has decreased by 10% between March 1 and May 1, driven mainly by a 25% reduction in the pre-trial detentioner population. The DOC attributes the reduction to “fewer admissions of newly-arrested individuals, release from incarceration of a modest number of pre-trial detainees through modification of bail conditions by a court, court-ordered release of individuals held in Level IV custody in civil failure to pay child support cases, and increased use by DOC of graduated sanctions in lieu of detention to keep probationers in compliance with their conditions of community supervision.”
    • In South Carolina, the prisons receive approximately 25 new offenders per week since the courts shut down because of coronavirus. Normally, the number is over 100.
    • In Rhode Island, there are no new commitments in custody and only four people been committed in the past two months.