National Resources, Coverage, and Policies on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice

From Duke Law third-year Juliet Park (outgoing President of our Criminal Law Society), below is amazing and detailed work shared with CSJ from her research during her internship this Spring  at the Durham District Attorney’s Office.

N.C. editorials and articles:

  • NC COVID-19 and Criminal Justice Resources
    • Public health experts have requested to Gov. Roy Cooper early release for prisoners who are elderly, medically vulnerable, or have one year or less remaining on their sentence
    • There is also a running repository of news coverage, court orders, filings, letters, and policy regarding NC COVID-19 response in the criminal system
  • We must act now to prevent an epidemic in North Carolina’s prisons and jails by Brandon Garrett and Lauren Brinkely-Rubinstein
    • Calls for immediate release of defendants who pose no threat to public safety through a statewide policy
    • Also calls for the release of people who are infirm or elderly


  • California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has temporarily suspended all intake of incarcerated persons into state facilities for 30 days
    • The Governor’s Executive Order N-36-20 (on March 24, 2020) also grants the Secretary the authority to extend the suspension of new-inmate intake for an additional 30-day period if “necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of inmates and juveniles” and staff who work in CDCR’s facilities
    • This would result in a net population reduction of about 3,000 inmates in 30 days due to normal attrition
  • CDCR will transition to parole up to approximately 3,500 non-violent male and female inmates who are within 60 days of their release date, within the next several weeks
    • Inmates who have been determined not to pose a public safety risk will be released, based on the following protocols:
      • Accelerate the date of release to parole, Post-Release Community Supervision, or direct discharge of nonviolent inmates who meet all of the following requirements:
        • (1) Have 60 days or less remaining on their sentences (as of March 30, 2020)
        • (2) Are not serving a current term of incarceration for a violent felony offense as defined by Penal Code § 667.5(c)
        • (3) Are not require to register under Penal Code § 290 (as a sex offender), and
        • (4) Are not serving a current term of incarceration for a domestic violence offense
      • Inmates approved for release under these protocols will have an appropriate release and transition plan and will be served with reporting instructions and conditions of release before their release.
    • Approximately 480-530 inmates living in dorms will be transferred to other prisons with unoccupied buildings or space available
    • CDCR has temporarily suspended all visitation by the public, while providing for alternative free methods for inmates to maintain contact with their friends and loved ones
    • San Francisco
      • DA Chesa Boudin has vowed to work with the PD’s office to hasten the release of people who are at high risk of illness and those who don’t need to be behind bars for public safety reasons
        • “As elected prosecutors, our job is to serve and protect everyone in our district, including jail inmates and staff” said Boudin.
      • Media
      • A new tactic to fight coronavirus: Send the homeless from jails to hotels
        • California and NYC are booking hotels so homeless people released from jail don’t accelerate the pandemic
        • With COVID-19 cases rising, CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that includes $50 million to lease hotel rooms or buy travel trailers for homeless people, including those released from jails.
        • On Friday, the governor said the state had secured 7,000 hotel rooms so far.
        • “People should be looking to California,” said a spokesman of the Alameda Sheriff’s Office. “We have a week ahead of a lot of other jurisdictions. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel on this.”
      • California to release 3,500 inmates early as coronavirus spreads inside prisons
        • Attorney Michael Bien, one lead plaintiff in civil rights litigation said the state has taken no steps to move those most at risk of dying from COVID-19, including older inmates and those with medical conditions, out of harm’s way
        • “As long as my brother remains incarcerated, there is a real chance the two-year sentence will become a death sentence.”


  • At least six women were released over the past week who were housed in the Decatur wing in an Illinois Prison, which was designed for mothers who give birth while incarcerated so they can remain with their babies until they turn 2.
  • Media
    • Civil rights groups sue for immediate release of Illinois inmates at risk from COVID-19
      • Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has said in press confidences that the state is taking action to stop the spread of COVID-19 behind bars
      • He said the state has been reviewing cases of low-level offenders in prison and released at least 300, but has been scant on details about how the review process works and what criteria is being used
      • Lawsuit calls for a range of prisoners to be put on medical furlough or transferred to home detention, including those who are medically vulnerable because of illnesses and people 55 years and older; they must have less than one year remaining on their sentence and be eligible for home detention
        • Beyond the health of prisoners, the lawsuit raises concerns for prison staff and the surrounding communities
        • A doctor said the hospital in a nearby suburban town was overwhelmed with over a dozen cases of Stateville prisoners needing COVID-19 care, including some on ventilators
      • Illinois Prisons are refusing new prisoners as COVID-19 spreads
        • The Ill. Dep’t of Corrections will refuse to take in new prisoners, with very limited exceptions, as a total of 12 corrections staff and prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19
        • The Ill. Sheriffs’ Association criticized the new order, saying it puts counties at higher risk and makes local governments bear additional financial costs
          • “We’re on the front lines … Local sheriffs need to be able to safely and securely transfer healthy inmates out of their facility to a state correctional center to mitigate risk, prevent overcrowding and slow or minimize the spread within the correctional system”

North Dakota

  • More than 50 prisoners in ND, including three convicted of sexual assault, will be released on parole early so state facilities can make space amid the COVID-19 pandemic
    • The state parole board approved the release of 56 prisoners and plans to bump up meetings with 60 inmates who were scheduled to have parole hearings in the next 90 days
    • Some inmates considered for parole were among a more vulnerable population at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19
    • The now-approved parolees mostly committed nonviolent crimes and the most serious crime was sexual assault, committed by three of the paroled inmates
      • All three were serving sentences for felony gross sexual imposition
      • One of the three was scheduled to be released May 15 but the date was moved up to April 10
      • The second was scheduled to be released in July but that date has been moved up to April 7, and the third was slated to be released in August but will get out March 26
    • The NC Dep’t of Corrections and Rehabilitation stopped accepting new inmates through Monday, March 23
    • ACLU Advocacy Director Dane DeKrey: “By releasing people who have served their minimum sentence and have been determined to be low-risk, the North Dakota Parole Board is taking a significant step in ensuring the health and safety of incarcerated people, medical staff, correctional officers and the community at large.”


  • Philly DA Larry Krasner urges for early release of low-risk prisoners to prevent spread of COVID-19
    • Krasner: “There are thousands if not tens of thousands of people in prisons across Pennsylvania who frankly should not be there, including people who are elderly, sick, have mental or physical disabilities, and who pose no threat of violence to the public. … Jails and prisons are already dirty, crowded places.”
    • The DA’s office has been working with the Defender Association to identify people for early release, including:
      • People who have already served their minimum sentence and are eligible for parole
      • People who are serving their sentence and are worthy of early parole
      • People who are elderly, ill, and/or infirm
      • People who are being held pre-trial for non-violent and misdemeanor offenses simply because they could not afford bail
      • People who are good candidates for alternative detention, such as house arrest or GPS monitoring
      • Juvenile offenders who are deemed to pose no safety threat to the public

Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island Supreme Court approved the release of 52 prisoners, to serve two weeks of quarantine before rejoining society
    • The 52 prisoners selected for possible release were among 200 with less than 91 days remaining in their prison terms
    • AG Peter Neronha said that each of the prisoners in the group was serving time for a non-violent offense
    • Moreover, the prisoners cannot be imprisoned for domestic violence or for violating a no-contact order, and they cannot be subject to a no-contact order that restrains them from contact with a particular person
    • Prisoners who have tested positive, shown symptoms of COVID-19 or have not been cleared by corrections medical staff are disqualified from early release
  • Rationale: Releasing a small segment of the prison population can help protect the wider population, as well as staff and others, from COVID-19

Spread of coronavirus accelerates in U.S. jails and prisons

  • New York City has freed about 450 inmates from its jails since last weekend as it scrambles to contain the virus
    • The city’s independent oversight body for the jails, the Board of Correction, has identified around 2,000 people who could be released—including inmates aged 50 and above, the infirm, nonviolent, low-level offenders or people jailed for parole violations
    • The city declined to disclose the number of inmates it has tested for the virus
    • On Friday, 3/27/20, the NY State Government identified 1,100 low-level parole violators for immediate release, including 400 in New York City jails
  • Other protections
    • Distributing masks to inmates in areas where someone tested positive for COVID-19, promoting distancing between inmates, cleaning cells and providing soap
    • Jails screening new inmates before they’re even booked, taking temperatures
    • Jails quarantining new arrivals until they are medically cleared to join the general population
  • New Jersey
    • NJ Chief Justice ordered the release of 1,000 jail inmates statewide
  • California, Los Angeles County
    • Released at least 1,700 inmates who had sentences with less than 30 days left
  • California, Santa Clara County
    • Authorities cut the inmate population by at least 400 by releasing some people, delaying sentences and other steps
  • Texas, Harris County
    • Cut jail population by at least 500
  • Washington, Seattle
    • DA Dan Satterberg announced that his office would not file charges, except in exceptionally violence cases

Joint statement from elected prosecutors on COVID-19 and addressing the rights and needs of those in custody, Fair and Just Prosecution

  • Achieving reductions in detention and incarcerated populations
    • Adopt and cite release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances
    • Release all individuals who are being detained solely because they can’t afford cash bail, unless they pose a serious risk to public safety
    • Reduce the prison population to minimize sharing of cells and ensure that there are sufficient medical quarantine beds, and enough staff, to promote the health and safety of staff, those incarcerated, and visitors
    • Identify and release the following people immediately, unless doing so would pose a serious risk to the physical safety of the community:
      • Individuals who are elderly;
      • Populations that the CDC has classified as vulnerable (those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes)
      • People in local jails who are within 6 months of completing their sentence; and
      • People incarcerated due to technical violations of probation and parole
    • Put in place procedures and advocate for reforms that enable past lengthy sentences to be revisited and support release for those individuals who can safely return to the community
  • There are more lists on potential reform in humane conditions of confinement, protecting immigrant communities and reducing immigrant detention, health care measures and protections for confined individuals,

COVID-19 stimulus bill includes more than $1B for criminal justice needs

  • $1B for U.S. Justice Department, $850 mil of which would provide grants for state and local gov’t for criminal justice needs including overtime costs, personal protective equipment and medical costs
  • New protocol
    • Giving prisons greater access to personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing materials via the economic stimulus package
  • Alternatives to incarceration
    • Expanded use of home detention, electronic monitoring
    • Increase access to release for older and infirm prisoners
    • Practical alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders

Prisoners across country will be confined for 14 days to cut coronavirus spread

  • Federal Bureau of Prisons announced that inmates in all of its institutions across the country will be kept in their assigned cells or quarters, effectively in lockdown
  • Working with U.S. Marshals to “significantly decrease incoming movement” to American prisons