Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order on Friday authorizing the temporary reprieve of some incarcerated individuals to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within state prisons.
The order will apply to non-violent inmates eligible for release within the next nine months, as well as inmates considered to be high risk for complications due to coronavirus and who are eligible for release within the next twelve months. Examples of high risk conditions include being 65 or older, pregnant, or having serious chronic conditions like heart or respiratory disease. Regardless of release date, persons convicted of violent crimes would not be eligible for temporary release under this program.
Those temporarily reprieved under the program will first be given release planning that includes information about treatment programs and medical providers, supplies of medicines, and a preliminary medical screening to ensure that currently ill inmates are not released into the community. Those who are released will be monitored similarly to parolees. Upon expiration of the order, which is set to last “for the duration of the disaster emergency,” temporarily reprieved individuals will be returned to prison to serve the remainders of their sentences.
Between 1,500 and 1,800 inmates are currently eligible under the terms of the program for temporary release, however the governor’s office stated that “given the reentry challenges of ensuring connection to the health care and behavioral health system, housing and food security, the number will likely be less than the eligible pool.”
The governor’s order comes a week after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union for a similar release of prisoners from all county jails throughout the state.