For The Record

State prisoners could get early release to reduce coronavirus spread

By: - April 1, 2020 12:13 pm

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles says it is reviewing potential clemency releases for nonviolent offenders to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Contributed by the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The state might grant Georgia inmates an early release from prison over the next month as officials search for ways to separate people during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles says it is reviewing potential clemency releases for nonviolent offenders scheduled to get out of prison within the next 180 days. The released offenders would then fall under the control of the Department of Community Supervision.

“The State Board of Pardons and Paroles understands the concerns and fully supports our state’s efforts to combat COVID-19, including safety protocols implemented by the Department of Corrections,” board chair Terry Barnard said in a statement this week.

The Southern Center for Human Rights called the review  a “critically important first step” after the nonprofit sent a letter recommending releasing some inmates from confined quarters where the disease can quickly spread. 

The civil rights nonprofit is also asking the state to release people held within the state’s transitional centers, including those over the age of 60, people suffering from underlying health problems and people who have finished most of the program’s conditions.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 4,638 people in the state tested positive for COVID-19 and 139 people died from the disease, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Georgia’s Lee State Prison has been hard hit by the virus with one inmate death and a total of 12 inmates and staff testing positive. Overall, 23 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Georgia  Department of Corrections Facilities.

County sheriff’s offices across the state have taken varying approaches to reduce their inmate population, including working with courts and judges to avoid incarcerating people charged with minor offenses.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.