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April 10, 2020

Pennsylvania and New Jersey Govs enter executive orders to enable temporary prison releases during COVID pandemic

Interestingly (and coincidentally?), Governors of two neighboring east coast states decided to issue new orders today to allow some prisoners to be temporarily released from imprisonment during the coronavirus crisis.  This press piece, headlined "Thousands of inmates in Pa. and N.J. now eligible for temporary release as coronavirus spreads," reports on the basics:

Thousands of inmates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are eligible to be temporarily released from prison in a measure to decrease the incarcerated population as the coronavirus spreads and outbreaks in jails sprout across the country.  On Friday, governors in both states invoked executive powers to establish processes that would offer some inmates a temporary reprieve of their sentences by placing them under house arrest or parole.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the program would offer as many as 1,800 state prison inmates a reprieve, and that eligible defendants include those 65 or older, anyone with autoimmune disorders, pregnant women, and inmates with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer or other ailments that make them more vulnerable to serious coronavirus complications.

The inmates, who could be released as soon as Tuesday, would be monitored and supervised by parole agents while under house arrest and would have to return to prison to complete their sentences once the state’s emergency order ends.  As of Friday morning, 11 inmates and at least 6 corrections officers at one state prison — SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County — had tested positive for the virus, according to the Department of Corrections.  “We can reduce our non-violent prison population and leave fewer inmates at risk for contracting COVID-19 while maintaining public safety with this program,” Wolf said in a statement.

In New Jersey, N.J. Gov Phil Murphy signed an executive order establishing that state’s process for putting some inmates in temporary home confinement or to be granted parole. Eligible inmates include people whose age or health status puts them at an increased risk, and who have not been convicted of serious crimes such as murder or sexual assault. Also eligible for release are individuals denied parole in the past year or whose sentences expire within the next three months.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks said 129 state corrections staff members had been “impacted by the virus.”   Twenty inmates have tested positive, he said, and one has died. More than 1,000 asymptomatic employees and 400 asymptomatic inmates are in medical quarantine due to possible exposure to the coronavirus.  “You can imagine when you’re running a correctional facility, in a correctional setting, that there are unique challenges in trying to implement social distancing,” Hicks said.

Public health advocates have called on governors for weeks to reduce the jail population as concern has risen surrounding detention centers — with their close quarters, limited hygiene, and inability to follow social distancing guidelines — as possible vectors for a coronavirus outbreak that could spread from inmates and guards to the surrounding community.  In Pennsylvania, Wolf called for the legislature to establish a framework for releasing some inmates, but it became snarled in Harrisburg this week. Advocates called Wolf’s order Friday a positive first step after weeks of delay.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's executive order, which runs three pages, is available at this link.  As of this writing, I cannot find NJ Governor Phil Murphy's executive order, but I did find this recent official(?) tweet thread describing its term.  

April 10, 2020 at 01:12 PM | Permalink

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so how do they sign up for consideration

Posted by: vylusha | Apr 10, 2020 1:51:58 PM

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