Cops, Courts and Fire Government

Governor Will Temporarily Release To Some State Inmates

A view of the cells inside State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County. Credit: PA Internet News Service

In a drastic reversal, Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced he will grant temporary reprieves to non-violent state inmates due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The plan could affect up to 1,800 incarcerated persons, though Wolf’s office said the number will likely be lower due to “reentry challenges.”

After initially resisting calls to grant reprieves, the administration changed course after lawmakers failed to move forward with a GOP plan to release no more than 450 of the state’s nearly 45,000 inmates.

“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 in a statement.

The decision applies to state prison inmates who have been identified as being “non-violent and who otherwise would be eligible for release within the next 9 months or who are considered at high risk for complications of coronavirus and are within 12 months of their release.”

The move comes two weeks after the first coronavirus case was reported at SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County, where 11 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the Wolf administration, “the releases could begin as early as Tuesday, April 14.” The inmates who are released “will be monitored similarly to parolees and will be supervised by parole agents.”

“Upon expiration of the order, individuals would be returned to prison to complete any remaining portion of their sentences,” according to a statement.

This story will be updated.

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