Survey of Executive Action Concerning the Spread of COVID-19 in State Correctional Facilities
Some governors are using clemency and other means to release incarcerated persons from prisons and jails during the COVID-19 epidemic. The Center has compiled these actions in a survey, which will be updated as new information becomes available.
USING EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY TO MITIGATE THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES
Because of the crowded nature of correctional facilities and the limited resources available there, people incarcerated in jails and prisons are exceptionally vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Many facilities house significant elderly populations as well as other people with underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious complications and/or death from the virus.
One way to mitigate the mounting crisis in correctional facilities is by using executive clemency. Many state constitutions vest the governor with broad authority to grant relief without the need for legislation or other actors. While governors can grant pardons or commutations that would have a permanent effect, they can also choose to issue reprieves, which are temporary delays in the imposition or resumption of a sentence. By using reprieves to temporarily release people from prison, we may spare them from potentially life-threatening illness without affecting the length of their sentence. It allows the system to press pause on a sentence until the danger passes.
The Center has assembled a working document that catalogues the legal authority to grant reprieves in all fifty states. We encourage anybody with state-specific knowledge to provide feedback, suggestions, or additions regarding the process of granting reprieves in a given jurisdiction by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STATE-SPECIFIC RESEARCH ON THE REPRIEVE POWER
Below is a non-exhaustive list of states in which the governor's power to grant reprieves appears especially broad. Click on each state's link to learn more about the reprieve power there. We expect to refine and add to this research in the coming days.
*Assembled by Research Fellow Ben Notterman '14, with help from Student Fellow Albert Huber '21.