COVID-19: Research On Executive Action

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. 

Access the survey here


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 

Access the working document here. 



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. 

California - Reprieve Power

Colorado - Reprieve Power 

Connecticut - Reprieve Power 

Delaware - Reprieve Power

Florida - Reprieve Power

Illinois - Reprieve Power

Kentucky - Reprieve Power

Maine - Reprieve Power

Maryland - Reprieve Power

Missouri - Reprieve Power

New Jersey - Reprieve Power

New Mexico - Reprieve Power 

New York - Reprieve Power

North Carolina - Reprieve Power

North Dakota - Reprieve Power

Ohio - Reprieve Power

Oklahoma - Reprieve Power

Oregon - Reprieve Power

Pennyslvania - Reprieve Power

Tennessee - Reprieve Power

Utah - Reprieve Power

Virginia - Reprieve Power

Washington - Reprieve Power 

Wisconsin - Reprieve Power 

Wyoming - Reprieve Power