Ten states have ordered the release of some inmates in response to the coronavirus

Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage on how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting America’s political and civic life. Our coverage includes how federal, state, and local governments are responding, and the effects those responses are having on campaigns and elections.

As of April 1, 10 states have ordered the release of inmates at the state level, 23 states have ordered the release of inmates on the local level, and 17 have not released inmates due to coronavirus.

Some state-level changes have been made by courts. On March 24, for example, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order that will suspend or commute county jail sentences for low-risk inmates due to the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty wrote a memo on March 16 directing local courts to release persons charged with non-capital crimes, so long as they do not pose a danger to the public or are an extreme flight risk.

The governors of Michigan and Illinois issued executive orders allowing local governments to release incarcerated individuals who are vulnerable to the disease and do not pose a risk to the public. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order granting the director of the Colorado Department of Corrections “authority to release people within 180 days of their parole eligibility date, and suspended limits on awarding earned time, to allow for earlier release dates.”

In California, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva released 1,700 people from jail who were convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors and scheduled to be released within 30 days. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the release of at least 650 inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes and serving sentences of less than a year from Rikers Island.

One governor, Texas’ Greg Abbot, has issued an executive order prohibiting inmates accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released without paying bail.

Additional Reading:
New Jersey Supreme Court
Donald Beatty
Alex Villanueva (California)
Bill de Blasio
Jared Polis
Greg Abbott
J.B. Pritzker
Gretchen Whitmer