COVID-19 Resources

COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons: Seeking Release to Reduce Spread

Generally speaking, there are four types of jail/prison release under consideration to reduce the susceptibility of incarcerated persons to widespread outbreaks of COVID-19:

  1. expanded pretrial release[1];
  2. release of low-level offenders[2];
  3. early release of those close to concluding a sentence (coming soon); and
  4. compassionate release of those most vulnerable to COVID-19[3].

For each of these areas, this page provides a summary of ABA policy supportive of release efforts, as well as links to news and relevant webinars created by the ABA. The linked webinar pages contain not only video of the webinars, but summaries of the webinar and model materials on the specific topics.

In many states, public defenders and civil rights groups filed petitions to State Supreme Court’s seeking release of several of the above populations.  Some examples:

  • In New Mexico, the Petition[4] argues for the release of the medically vulnerable as well as those with less than a year remaining on their sentences
  • In Pennsylvania, a King’s Bench Petition[5] to the PA Supreme Court argued for release of those who are older and/or medically vulnerable as well as those with three months or less remaining on a sentence, among others.
  • Similar petitions have been filed in Washington State[6] and  Massachusetts[7], among many others.

Re-entry Issues for Prisoners Released During the COVID-19 Pandemic[8]As courts consider whether to grant release, questions arise concerning release planning during the various closures and stay-at-home orders.  How do you release someone who is symptomatic or has tested positive?  How do you ensure they have a place to self-quarantine, if necessary?  How do you make sure that they will have access to basics — such as housing and food — particularly given the current employment situation?  The ABA conducted a webinar on Release Planning During COVID-19[9].  The webinar and its materials page attempt to answer many of these questions.

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