RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) – As of midnight on July 1, the Virginia Department of Corrections’ authority to release state inmates early due to the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end.
The department says 2,114 state responsible inmates — including 1,326 from DOC facilities and 788 from local jails — have already been released early as of Wednesday, June 16 because of the pandemic.
“On April 22, 2020, the Virginia General Assembly approved a proposed budget amendment from Governor Ralph Northam giving the director of the Department of Corrections authority to release offenders early during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Just as the pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, this authority for the director to release inmates early was unprecedented.
The Department continues to review individuals who meet the eligibility criteria for early release, with a focus on those inmates deemed most vulnerable due to an underlying medical condition or other circumstances that warrant an expedited review; however, the Department’s authority to release individuals early will terminate at midnight on July 1, 2021, as specified in the budget amendment.”Virginia Department of Corrections
According to officials, the state prison population has decreased significantly during the pandemic, with the average daily inmate population reaching 23,897 at the end of April.
Based on the budget amendment, the director of the Virginia DOC reportedly has the authority to consider early release for certain individuals with less than one year left in their sentence while the COVID-19 emergency declaration is in effect.
“We thank family members and community organizations for stepping up to offer services and support to this population as we safely released inmates early during the pandemic,” said Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “The early release plan was an innovative way to ensure the safety and security of our incarcerated population as well as the public.”
When reviewing offenders eligible for early release, the Virginia DOC considers a number of factors, including the offense type and history, medical conditions, a documented and approved home plan, good time earning level, recidivism risk, and active detainers.
In addition, state probation and parole offices put in the work to make sure they were ready to receive additional inmates as they were released onto probation.
“Our inmate management staff worked overtime to identify individuals eligible for early release, including securing suitable home plans, while continuing all regular releases during the pandemic,” said Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “As our authority to release inmates early comes to a close, we have about 70% of our inmate population vaccinated, and no current cases of COVID-19 amongst the inmate population.”
Since vaccination rates are rising and coronavirus case numbers are dropping, the Virginia DOC is planning a phased-in approach for allowing visitors back into facilities, based on CDC guidance for congregate settings.
Department officials say they will continue to vaccinate all staff members and inmates who want to be vaccinated; test staff and inmates for COVID-19; and require face masks in congregate settings, such as correctional facilities.
You can find more information about the Virginia DOC’s coronavirus policy at https://www.vadoc.virginia.gov/.