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States are releasing thousands of inmates in response to coronavirus pandemic

'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,' Pennsylvania's governor said

Updated: April 10, 2020 - 7:24pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf on Friday ordered the release or transfer of as many as 1,800 state prison inmates incarcerated for non-violent crimes to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

According to Wolf's executive order, the state's temporary program to reprieve sentences applies to "qualifying individuals" who will serve under home confinement or be transferred to a community corrections facility.

“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. 

Wolf's office explained that the early-release program applies to non-violent state prison inmates who are eligible for release within the next nine months. Inmates considered at high risk for coronavirus complications who are within 12 months of their scheduled release would also qualify for the program.

The number of eligible inmates would be 1,500 to 1,800.

Wolf is just one of several governors across the country who have taken such measures to stop the spread of the virus within their respective inmate populations, at high risk for infection because they live in such close quarters.

On Friday, Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to release about 2,000 inmates with less than a year left on their sentences.

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said on Friday that his administration was allowing the early release of more inmates to "temporary home confinement" above the 1,000 previously approved by the courts. 

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"No one convicted of a serious crime, such as murder or sexual assault, will be eligible," Murphy said.

Nebraska Republican Gov. Phil Ricketts has rejected the idea of releasing prisoners.

"This is not a good time to be coming out of prison. I can offer housing, food, recreation, work, health care, programming, all in a relatively safe setting," he said on Friday. "For many people that leave prison right now, they're going to be very challenged to find those settings."

The New York City government has released 1,500 inmates in response to COVID-19.