RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday 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.
The director of the Department of Corrections is authorized to consider early release for individuals with less than one year left to serve while the COVID-19 emergency declaration is in effect. Offenders convicted of a Class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense are not eligible for consideration. The exact number of individuals eligible for early release consideration will change depending on the length of the emergency declaration order.
The DOC will identify those that are eligible for consideration using the procedures it has developed to ensure public safety and will notify offenders who are to be released under the early release plan. A diagnosis of COVID-19 is not a release factor.
“The Governor and legislature have enabled us to discharge low-level offenders in a responsible manner,” said Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “These returning citizens will need our support. We thank family members and community organizations for doing all they can to offer services to this population as they are released during the pandemic. This unprecedented crisis calls for a smart, responsible approach which takes into account public safety while ensuring the returning citizens’ reentry success.”
DOC is considering multiple factors as they review offenders who are eligible for early release, including the offense type and history, medical conditions, a documented and approved home plan, good time earning level, and recidivism risk. Offenders must have no active detainers. As this process is implemented, DOC will also consider broader public safety implications, including the safety and well-being of the offender and the offender’s family, availability of community resources, and access to proper health care for any medical or mental health treatment needs.
“Just as our medical professionals have been working around the clock throughout this pandemic, our offender management staff are moving very quickly to identify offenders eligible for early release,” said Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “We are focused on safety – public safety, staff safety, and offender safety. We’re looking at offender home plans and access to medical care, among many other factors. We must avoid releasing someone from a facility where they have access to 24-hour care into a situation in which they are more susceptible to COVID-19.”
In light of this pandemic, the DOC is now releasing offenders with three months' worth of medication rather than the usual one month. This will ensure that returning citizens have adequate time to establish care in the community and comply with socially distancing requirements.
State probation and parole offices are working hard to ensure they are ready to receive the additional offenders as they are released. All probation and parole districts have adjusted their intake process, so that all or a portion of the intake process is set up and completed electronically. If electronic intake is not possible, officers are limited to completing one intake at a time in a manner that meets current sanitation and social distancing guidelines, utilizing Personal Protective Equipment.
Questions can be directed to the DOC via email at COVID19Inquiries@vadoc.virginia.gov. The DOC also has a dedicated COVID-19 information line at 804-887-8484.