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There are fewer people in Virginia jails thanks to COVID-19

Posted at 1:30 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 15:42:09-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Friday that Virginia's efforts to decrease jail populations by releasing low-level offenders from local regional jails in response to COVID-19 are working.

“We are facing an unprecedented public health emergency, which has required us to work collaboratively to develop unique solutions,” Governor Northam said. “Criminal justice stakeholders across the Commonwealth are using the tools available to them to decrease our jail population and address this crisis responsibly, humanely, and deliberately. This is exactly the type of cooperation we need, and I commend our public safety officials and urge them to continue these important efforts.”

The Virginia jail population is down 17% as of April 7.

Overall, Virginia is seeing 67% decline in new inmates for misdemeanors.

On March 19, Northam issued guidance to local criminal justice offices on ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring public safety.

They recommended:

  • Allowing sentence modifications that can reduce populations within the jails
  • Diverting offenders from being admitted into jails prior to trial, including the use of summonses by law enforcement in lieu of arrest pursuant to § 19.2-74 of the Code of Virginia, and use of local pretrial programs as available and with consideration to local capacity.
  • Considering ways to decrease the number of low-risk offenders being held without bail in jails.
  • Utilizing alternative solutions to incarceration such as home electronic monitoring, pursuant to § 53.1-131.2 of the Code of Virginia.

Since late February, the number of new commitments to local and regional jails has decreased from approximately 10,000 during a two-week period to just over 4,000.

“Governor Northam called on local officials to work together to safely reduce our jail population, and this early and aggressive effort is clearly working,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “Localities are taking these recommendations seriously, and I expect them to continue making decisions with the public safety of their communities in mind.”

Northam has also proposed a budget amendment allowing the Director of the Department of Corrections to release individuals with less than a year left in their sentences for the duration of the state of emergency.

The legislature will consider this amendment when they reconvene on April 22. If adopted the amendment will be effective immediately.