Early Release from Incarceration in Response to COVID-19

Correctional institutions are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. As part of state and local COVID-19 response efforts, officials are taking actions to mitigate the spread of the disease and protect criminal justice-involved populations and correctional staff. These measures include amending agency policy (such as policies on visitation, hand sanitizer, copays, shared spaces, etc.), following CDC Interim Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities, and utilizing alternatives to incarceration consistent with public safety.1 As part of these broader COVID-19 correctional response efforts, state prisons and local jails are also releasing certain individuals from correctional facilities prior to the completion of their sentence.

The health and safety of the public, correctional staff, and incarcerated individuals are core considerations when deciding to release certain incarcerated individuals early. So far, most action to release incarcerated individuals in response to COVID-19 has taken place through judicial mandate or through local decision making at county jails. Recently, some states have moved to early release as well. The following outlines mechanisms for implementing early release for certain correctional populations, provides a summary of state and local actions, identifies key provisions of release decisions, and summarizes considerations noted by states around determining these actions.

All NGA COVID-19 memos can be found here, or visit COVID-19: What You Need To Know for current information on actions States/Territories are taking to address the COVID-19 pandemic; as well as advocacy, policy, and guidance documents for protecting public health and the economy.