The shocking increase in coronavirus cases in the state has prompted Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf to order the transfer of certain non-violent prisoners at state facilities into early, supervised release
This temporary early release program involves exclusively non-violent inmates otherwise set for release within the next nine months and “high risk” prisoners affected by coronavirus set for release within the next twelve months.
“I am pleased to direct the Department of Corrections to begin the process to release vulnerable and non-violent inmates at or nearing their release dates in an organized way that maintains supervision post-release and ensures home and health care plans are in place for all reentrants,” Wolf said in a Friday statement.
After reviewing each case, prisoners would be moved from state correctional facilities into halfway houses or “home confinement.” They are required to submit to the same conditions as those for parolees, which means that they must be under the supervision of special agents.
About 1,500 to 1,800 prisoners qualify for the program and their releases will begin April 14.
Once the order expires, individuals would return to prison to complete their sentences.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said that this movement does not differ from the measures being taken in all communities hit by the pandemics.
“Just as everyone in the community is dealing with COVID-19, the state prison system is doing the same,” he said. “We must reduce our inmate population to be able to manage this virus. Without this temporary program, we are risking the health, and potentially lives, of employees and inmates.”
Wolf justified the order by concerns about the potential spread of the virus in prison facilities. He also cited powers granted to him under emergency management provisions in the Pennsylvania Constitution
“We can reduce our non-violent prison population and leave fewer inmates at risk for contracting COVID-19 while maintaining public safety with this program,” Wolf said.
There have been 11 COVID-19 cases confirmed at State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, but concern for cases spreading to other facilities is another reason for the release of some inmates.