RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday approved a proposed budget amendment from Governor Ralph Northam that gives the Department of Corrections (DOC) the authority to release some inmates with less than a year remaining on their sentences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Governor and legislature have enabled us to discharge low-level offenders in a responsible manner,” said Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “These returning citizens will need our support. We thank family members and community organizations for doing all they can to offer services to this population as they are released during the pandemic. This unprecedented crisis calls for a smart, responsible approach which takes into account public safety while ensuring the returning citizens’ reentry success.”
The director of the Department of Corrections is authorized to consider early release for offenders while the COVID-19 emergency declaration is in effect. Officials say the number of offenders released will depend on how long the emergency declaration order is in effect.
The DOC says they will consider multiple factors as they review offenders who are eligible for early release, including the offense type and history, medical conditions, a documented and approved home plan, good time earning level, and recidivism risk.
Offenders convicted of a Class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense are not eligible for consideration and offenders must have no active detainers.
“Just as our medical professionals have been working around the clock throughout this pandemic, our offender management staff are moving very quickly to identify offenders eligible for early release,” said Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “We are focused on safety – public safety, staff safety, and offender safety. We’re looking at offender home plans and access to medical care, among many other factors. We must avoid releasing someone from a facility where they have access to 24-hour care into a situation in which they are more susceptible to COVID-19.”
The DOJ says state probation and parole offices are working to ensure they are ready to receive the additional offenders as they are released.
Additionally, probation and parole districts have adjusted their intake process, so that all or a portion of the intake process is set up and completed electronically.
More information about the early release of offenders can be found here.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.