Throughout the country, governors, courts, corrections systems, and law enforcement agencies are implementing new policies to limit the spread of coronavirus in jails and prisons.
Officials in at least 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal prison system have adopted policies to reduce their incarcerated populations during the pandemic. Efforts range from police departments issuing summonses instead of making arrests for lower-level offenses to fast-tracking parole hearings to early releases for individuals who are nearing the end of their sentences or who have pre-existing medical conditions.
Governors in at least 11 states have issued executive orders that block new transfers into state prisons, allow early release for some prisoners, or both. At the county level, judges, prosecutors, and public defenders are working together to release low-risk pretrial detainees and inmates serving sentences for nonviolent offenses. And the federal prison system has transferred hundreds of prisoners to home confinement.
This page is intended to serve as a resource to compile information from media reports, official announcements, and other sources about actions taken in response to coronavirus that affect incarcerated populations. Click on a specific state or scroll down.
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March 18 — A circuit judge ordered inmates released from Autauga, Elmore, and Chilton county jails at discretion of sheriffs based on inmates’ potential threat to the community.
March 20 — The Alabama Department of Corrections blocked new transfers from local jails to state prisons for at least 30 days.
April 1 — Alabama state prisons have temporarily stopped accepting new inmates, causing backups in local jails, which often lack infirmaries to care for sick inmates.
July 28 — The Jefferson County Jail has announced it is only holding individuals charged with violent felonies who cannot make bail.
February 3 — The rate of individuals in Alabama prisons who were granted parole fell 36% in 2020 compared to 2019.
August 19 — The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office released 24 people being held in pretrial detention for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses as COVID-19 cases inside the Mobile County Metro Jail climbed to 110. The sheriff’s office said it is considering additional releases. Individuals charged with domestic violence-related offenses, drunken driving, failure to appear in court, or felony offenses are not eligible.
April 7 — Police in Alaska are under a temporary court order to not jail anyone for misdemeanor offenses except stalking and domestic violence. A separate court order allows pretrial detainees to request a bail hearing based on concerns about the virus.
December 23 — The number of people held in jails while awaiting trial is increasing while court proceedings are suspended and restrictions on visitation prevent attorneys from meeting with their clients.
March 26 — The Maricopa County Attorney announced that she directed her staff to find ways to “reduce the number of individuals having to interact with the criminal justice system.”
March 27 — The Pima County Jail has released some pretrial detainees charged with lower-level, nonviolent offenses.
April 21 — The number of jail inmates in Cochise County fell 32%.
January 21 — The Pima County Sheriff’s Department is reviewing all individuals incarcerated at the county jail to identify those who can be released, including those held on low bail while awaiting trial for lower-level, nonviolent offenses. The jail currently has about 1,500 individuals in custody, down from 1,900 a year ago. The sheriff estimates the population needs to drop by another 200 to create space for proper distancing.
February 13 — Arizona’s prison population fell 11% since the start of the pandemic, mostly because court proceedings have been suspended, resulting in a drop in the number of individuals sentenced to prison. The state has not granted early releases for people in state prisons; county jails have released 300 individuals held for non-violent offenses to reduce their populations.
December 19 — Pima County officials are working to reduce their jail population in anticipation of up to 36% of its corrections officers face termination for failing to comply with a vaccine mandate. The facility, which is already understaffed, currently holds about 1,640 people, and officials hope to get that number down to about 1,300. Steps include not charging people for simple drug possession, considering reducing bail amounts for people in pretrial detention, and expanding the use of ankle monitors.
March 23 — Some county jails have begun releasing low-risk pretrial detainees and inmates serving sentences for lower-level offenses.
April 20 — Gov. Asa Hutchinson has asked the Department of Corrections to review all state prisoners serving sentences for nonviolent, non-sex offenses who are due to be released within the next six months. The parole board will screen the approximately 1,700 individuals who fit that criteria and consider them for early release.
May 8 — Arkansas prisons have granted early release for 300 individuals following the governor’s April 20 directive.
June 8 — The Board of Corrections has certified more than 1,200 individuals eligible for release, but only about a quarter of them have left incarceration.
November 11 — The Arkansas Department of Corrections returned 277 individuals to its facilities, ending a five-year agreement to house some state prisoners in a private facility in Texas to alleviate overcrowding. Hundreds of COVID-related releases and suspending transfers from county jails have brought Arkansas prisons under capacity for the first time in a decade.
August 25 — The Arkansas Board of Corrections approved a list of 300 incarcerated men eligible for immediate release if they’re approved by the parole board. The move was in response to the prison population reached 98% capacity for 30 consecutive days.
November 25 — After a significant population decline during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington County jail population is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels. The population hit a record high of 802 individuals in February 2020 before falling to 373 people three months later. As of November 2021, the population had reached 712. The reduction followed steps to reduce the population, including increasing the use of felony citations rather than booking people, releasing some individuals without requiring them to post bail, a pilot program using ankle monitors, and reducing bail amounts for individuals held pre-trial.
March 16 — The Los Angeles County jail system released 600 inmates, including some who were nearing the end of their sentences. Law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, moved to reduce the number of arrests by issuing citations for low-level offenses.
March 18 — The Santa Clara County sheriff released jail six inmates who were nearing the end of their sentences to home confinement.
March 19 — The Alameda County sheriff released 314 jail inmates early at the request of a judge, public defender, and district attorney. The sheriff also directed police to prioritize arrests for individuals accused of felonies and issue citations for low-level offenses.
March 19 — Los Angeles County has reduced its jail population by 6% over three weeks as the county speeds up efforts to release inmates, prioritizing early release for individuals with fewer than 30 days left to serve. Police are citing instead of arresting people charged with lower-level offenses, excluding domestic violence. On March 24, the Sheriff’s Department reported 1,700 had been released.
March 24 — The governor issued an executive order barring new commitments to state prisons and youth facilities for at least 30 days. The order also directs the parole board to develop and implement a process for holding parole hearings virtually by April 13.
March 25 — The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said it had reduced the jail population by about 100 inmates over a week to free up quarantine space. Law enforcement officers are issuing citations rather than making arrests for some misdemeanors.
March 30 — San Francisco reduced its jail population by 25% in March.
March 31 — The Santa Rita Jail, one of the largest in California, reduced its population by about 500 inmates in two weeks. The Alameda County district attorney, public defender, and presiding judge agreed release about 250 inmates after modifying their sentences. The rest of the decrease came from local courts releasing defendants without bail and police departments arresting and booking fewer people.
March 31 — The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation plans to grant early release to 3,500 prisoners who were scheduled to be released over the next 60 days.
April 1 — Santa Clara County law enforcement officers will issue citations instead of making arrests for offenses including failure to appear, as well as nonviolent felonies with standard bail less than $25,000.
April 6 — California judges adopted a statewide emergency rule to release people charged with misdemeanors and lower-level felonies without bail.
April 10 — As many as 39 Shasta County jail inmates will be released early under a state directive to reduce incarcerated populations.
April 14 — Hundreds of jail inmates across the state were released after the Judicial Council of California issued an emergency order eliminating bail for people charged with low-level offenses.
April 27 — Bay Area jails in five counties have reduced their combined population by more than 3,000 people through releases and booking fewer individuals. San Quentin State Prison has released 87 people. Some of those released are now adding to the area’s homeless population. Statewide, California expedited the release of 3,500 individuals from state prison.
June 16 — California prisons will begin granting early release for individuals who have less than 180 days left to serve and meet other criteria beginning July 1. Those released will either be placed on parole, transferred to county-run post-release supervision, or have the remainder of their sentence discharged. Individuals convicted of a violent crime and those who must register as sex offenders are not eligible for early release. California’s prison population has declined by about 8,000 people since mid-March.
July 10 — California plans to release as many as 8,000 people from state prison as infections spike. Those potentially eligible for early release fall into two groups. The first includes individuals with less than 180 days left to serve. The second group includes individuals at eight state prisons who are especially vulnerable. Those convicted of a violent crime, domestic violence offense, or a sex offense, and those assessed as high-risk for violence are not eligible for either group, and release for individuals over 30 will be prioritized.
July 20 — A federal judge in Los Angeles has ordered officials at the state prison in Lompoc to begin identifying individuals to release on home confinement. Those who will be considered for release have an elevated risk because they are over 50 or have an underlying health condition. The order is the result of a lawsuit filed by individuals incarcerated at the prison. More than 1,000 inmates and staff have been infected with COVID-19 at the prison complex.
July 21 — The Santa Barbara County Jail population fell by 37% from March to July. The decrease included 476 individuals granted early release (12% have were rearrested), and 338 individuals diverted from jail through a supervised pre-release program (less than 1% were rearrested). Larcenies increased, but all other major and less severe types of offenses declined or remained flat over that time.
July 22 — The number of people held in Riverside County jails has fallen 16% since February, following a decision by court administrators to eliminate money bail for non-violent offenses and misdemeanors statewide, as well as early releases for some individuals who were nearing the end of their sentences. The county will have to maintain a 10% reduction in capacity to allow for social distancing, according to a plan released by the sheriff’s department.
July 31 — California’s prison population has dipped below 100,000 people for the first time since 1990 as efforts to grant early releases continue.
August 4 — California has released about 10% of its prison population. Gov. Newsom has announced a one-time three-month credit for all individuals except for those who are on death row, are serving life without parole, or have recent serious rule violations. The credit is expected to lead to the release of 2,100 people and follows other action by the governor to speed up releases for about 8,300 individuals with up to six months left to serve.
August 5 — California officials have increased the estimated number of individuals who will be released from prison in response to COVID-19 from 10,400 to 17,600. Prison officials say the state’s corrections secretary may block releases of 5,500, many of whom are serving life sentences.
August 23 — Incarcerated individuals who participate in a program to help fight wildfires say they’ve been largely left out the move to release thousands of people from st ate prisons even though they meet the eligibility criteria of being within a year of the their release dates and being lower-risk. Attorneys representing the individuals say the state has an incentive to keep them in the firefighting program because it saves the state millions each year.
September 1 — There are 660 fewer individuals held in the Alameda County Jail than there were on March 1.
September 1 — The Yolo County district attorney says that 266 people were released from jail without having to post bail under a state judicial council order that was in effect from April to June. Individuals who were released were later charged with 247 new offenses in the county, including 105 felonies and 142 misdemeanors.
September 16 — The number of people held in the Los Angeles County jail system dropped by 5,000 from January to June, including 2,000 individuals who were being held pretrial. County officials commissioned a group to recommend ways to maintain that population level by moving to a “care first, jail last” model, but it had begun to rebound by September, increasing from a low of about 12,000 in June to about 13,900. The system has a capacity of 12,404. The county sheriff said some of the increase was a backlog of people waiting to be transferred to state prisons or mental health facilities.
October 20 — A judge has ordered San Quentin State Prison to immediately reduce its population by half in response to the inability to control the spread of COVID-19 in the facility. That would require the release or transfer of about 1,700 individuals.
October 24 — California’s prison population declined 23% from March to October, falling to 92,600.
November 2 — The Los Angeles County jail population decreased by about a third during the pandemic, but the proportions of jailed Black people and individuals with mental illness are on the rise.
November 25 — California’s prison population decreased by 22,000 from March through November, reaching its lowest point in 30 years. The reduction is largely due to 7,400 early releases and not transferring 8,000 individuals sentenced to prison from county jails where they’re currently held. Of more than 8,200 medically vulnerable individuals in state prisons, only about 80 have been released.
November 30 — Early releases from California prisons have slowed significantly as COVID-19 infections surge. The prison population has flattened out after dropping to its lowest level in 30 years, and many prisons remain significantly overcrowded. Prison officials say the early release programs were a time-limited measure before more comprehensive pandemic-response procedures were in place.
December 11 — A judge has ordered a 50% reduction in Orange County’s jail population, siding with the ACLU and local activists. County Sheriff Don Barnes said that the order would require releasing more than 1,800 individuals, some of whom have been charged with or convicted of violent offenses. Barnes said he was considering appealing the ruling.
December 11 — Since California began an early release program for individuals nearing the end of their sentence or with medical conditions that put them at high risk, prisons have released nearly 7,600 people. Of those, 62 were released for medical reasons while the rest were freed early because they were close to their release date.
December 23 — The Ventura County jails released 76 people following an outbreak of COVID-19. Those who were released had less than 60 days left to serve and were sentenced for non-violent offenses.
January 9 — A Sacramento County Superior Court judge has agreed to release some individuals from the county jails in response to COVID-19 concerns. But decarceration advocates estimate only about 160 of the 3,300 individuals in those facilities. Exempted from the release order are individuals jailed for misdemeanors like drunk driving and domestic violence, and any “serious” felony.
January 20 — A panel of four judges denied Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes’ appeal of a court order requiring him to reduce the jail’s population by half. The jail will have to move more than 1,000 individuals to other facilities or release them to comply with the order.
February 16 — A judge who ordered the Orange County jails to reduce their population by half said the sheriff has done enough to comply by increasing testing and social distancing, and releases of individuals in custody are not required.
March 2 — Since dipping below 12,000 individuals early in the pandemic, the LA County jail population has increased to more than 15,300 people. The system’s state-rated capacity is 12,404.
June 9 — California’s prison population dropped 23% during the pandemic. The number of people incarcerated in jails fell 20% during the first half of 2020 before beginning to grow again, reducing the overall decrease to 12% compared to 2019.
September 16 — Santa Clara County’s jail population decreased during the pandemic, falling to less than half of its peak of nearly 4,400 people recorded in 2014. In response to COVID-19, the county expanded pretrial release and used a zero-bail policy for certain charges.
October 10 — Over 18 months, Santa Clara County jails saw their incarcerated population drop from 3,239 to 2,342. County officials expect the population to remain lower than before the pandemic due to an initiative allowing early release for individuals who earn good behavior credits and a diversion program for individuals with behavioral health needs.
October 12 — As of October 2021, San Diego County jails held 4,000 incarcerated people, down from 5,600 in early 2020. The population drop followed introduction of new bail rules and early releases for individuals awaiting trial who were assessed as low-risk. The county is considering permanent changes, including offering enhanced behavioral health treatment services to help keep people from ending up in jail.
December 29 — A judge temporarily halted a process to allow individuals in prison to earn credits for time off their sentences faster. The process — part of emergency regulations in response to the pandemic — would have allowed individuals serving sentences for nonviolent offenses as their second-strike under California’s three strikes law to earn credits equal to two-thirds off their sentences, up from half. Twenty-eight of the state’s 58 district attorneys moved to block the new rule, arguing some of those who were eligible for credits had previously been convicted of more serious, violent offenses.
January 14 — The Sacramento County Attorney’s Office issued an emergency order authorizing the early release of 203 individuals, who will be freed up to 90 days early. The order came in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases inside the jail. Those not eligible for early release include people charged with domestic violence offenses, drunken driving, sex offenses, or violent felonies.
January 26 — The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said 13 individuals will be released from the county jail to bring the facility down to 50% capacity following a COVID-19 outbreak. The individuals were convicted of nonviolent offenses and are within 30 days of the end of their sentences.
March 16 — Police in Denver and Boulder are issuing citations instead of arresting individuals accused of low-level, nonviolent drug and property offenses.
March 21 — The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office announced plans to release some inmates who have served at least half of their sentence.
March 24 — The governor of Colorado issued guidance to law enforcement to increase use of warnings or summonses in lieu of arrest when public safety is not at risk and for jurisdictions to implement pretrial diversion and release methods to lower the number of individuals in custody. Also, Colorado sheriffs issued guidance that law enforcement should summons and release individuals on all offenses where arrest is not mandated by statute, and should notify but release individuals encountered with warrants for low-level misdemeanors and felonies, and that jails should reduce their jail population by weighing the crime, time remaining on sentence, inmate behavior, and risk to the community.
March 27 — The governor signed an executive order allowing the Department of Corrections to limit the number of new prisoners it accepts, award good time credits to reduce the prison population, and refer qualifying individuals to a “special needs parole” program. The order also suspends a $17 per day subsistence payment community corrections clients are required to pay.
April 1 — The combined population of Colorado’s 15 largest county jails is down 31% compared to January. The drop is the result of releasing inmates on home confinement, lowering bail amounts, early releases, and police departments issuing summonses instead of making arrests.
April 13 — Fifty-two state prisoners have been released early following Gov. Jared Polis’ March 25 executive order, and hundreds more could follow.
April 20 — The number of inmates in Denver County jails fell 41% from March 1 through April 15. Judges and prosecutors have prioritized releasing individuals who are pregnant, are over 60, have health issues or less than 60 days left on their sentence, are being held on low bail, or are on work release.
July 29 — Denver’s jail population has dropped 45% since mid-March when officials began releasing people who were incarcerated for lower-level offenses, were over 60, had less than two months left to serve, were medically vulnerable, or were pregnant. Arrests have declined 45%, and jail bookings are down 57%.
September 9 — Colorado’s prison population fell 11.4% from March to September. Of the 2,200 people released, 310 were freed as the result of Gov. Polis’ March executive order.
October 13 — Colorado county jail populations have fallen to 47% capacity on average compared to 80% capacity before the pandemic. However, jail populations have increased 17% since July. In the state’s 14 largest counties, crime was down 4% in 2019 to 2020.
January 2 — Colorado’s prison population fell 16.4% from February through the end of 2020, ending the year at about 16,000. The decrease reverses an upward trend in the population, which had been expected to reach 25,000 in 2025. However, state official predict the population will begin to grow again after bottoming out at about 15,800 in 2021. Some factors contributing to the decrease include release of individuals deemed low-risk, 2019 legislation that reduced penalties for drug possession, and an increase in discretionary parole releases.
March 6 — Data from Colorado’s 14 largest counties show the jurisdictions saw their populations fall between 22% and 52% without significantly impacting public safety during the pandemic. Legislators are using policies local sheriffs followed to reduce the number of bookings as the basis for a bill that would prohibit arrests for lower-level offenses and would require individuals to be released without having to post cash bail.
December 6 — Denver District Attorney Beth McCann reported that data tracked by her office showed about 20% of people granted early release or lower bail during the pandemic were charged with a new offense, compared to 11% of people who did not receive any pandemic-related concessions. She said she does not believe that measures to reduce the jail population increased violent crime.
April 6 — Connecticut prisons have granted early release for more than 700 inmates, prioritizing those over 50.
May 1 — Connecticut granted early releases for more than 520 state prisoners in March, placing them on some form of community supervision. With early releases and scheduled releases, the state prison population shrank to its lowest level since 1993.
June 7 — The ACLU and the state of Connecticut reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit, which requires the state to identify individuals who are at higher risk because of their age or medical conditions and prioritize them for early release programs.
October 19 — Connecticut’s prison population decreased 23% from March 1 to Sept. 1, falling to 9,545. That’s about half of the state’s peak prison population of 19,894, reached in 2008.
December 23 — The proportion of sentenced inmates who received a discretionary release from incarceration to community supervision reached a 10-year high in the first half of 2020. The increase is one factor that contributed to a reduction in the state’s prison population of more than 3,200 people from March 1 to Dec. 21.
May 12 — Delaware’s incarcerated population is down 10% due to fewer admissions, release of some individuals being held pretrial, and early release for some individuals who were on work release for failing to pay child support.
March 19 — The Lake County Sheriff’s Office released 44 pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses. In Hillsborough County, 164 inmates serving sentences for nonviolent offenses were approved for release. The state prison system stopped accepting new inmates until at least March 30.
March 22 — Prosecutors are working to reduce the jail population in Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties through plea deals that avoid jail time, releasing certain pretrial detainees, and not filing charges in nonviolent, “marginal” cases.
March 27 — Hillsborough County released 164 pretrial detainees who couldn’t afford to pay bail. Pinellas County’s jail bookings decreased as law enforcement prioritized issuing summonses instead of arrests. Leon County has seen a 60% drop in jail bookings compared to February.
March 30 — Jail bookings in Collier County fell by 68% after law enforcement agencies changed protocols to issue summonses for nonviolent crimes instead of making arrests.
April 3 — Prosecutors in Miami-Dade County announced plans to release 18 jail inmates who were due to complete their sentences over the next two months.
April 9 — Public defenders and prosecutors in Broward County are working with judges to reduce the county’s jail population. The county has released 2,500 inmates in the past month, bringing its population to 500 fewer inmates compared to the same time last year.
June 30 — The Duval County Jail released about 500 individuals early between mid-March and June 23. Those released were incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent offenses.
July 22 — The Duval County Jail released nearly 50 people incarcerated for lower-level, nonviolent offenses in July, bringing the total up to about 550.
October 14 — Florida’s prison population fell 12% from March to September, reaching a 15-year low of 84,601. The decline was largely due to COVID-19 restrictions that put criminal cases and new prisoner intake on hold.
November 24 — Florida’s prison population continues to decline, mostly due to a drop in admissions with most jury trials suspended due to the pandemic. At teh end of October, there were 82,027 individuals incarcerated in state prisons, down from 87,736 in June. The population is expected to begin growing again and quickly offset the decrease.
April 1 — Georgia’s parole board is reviewing cases for early release. Only prisoners serving time for nonviolent offenses who are within 180 days of finishing their sentences are in consideration for early release.
April 1 — Dougherty County reduced its jail population 20% by releasing some inmates early and releasing pretrial detainees.
May 1 — Hawaii’s jails and prisons have granted early release for 655 individuals since March 2 after expedited reviews of motions filed by defense attorneys.
June 5 — The Hawaii Supreme Court ended an order requiring jails and prisons to work toward reducing their populations as the state eases restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. More than 650 people were released from incarceration under the order, which went into effect in mid-April.
August 16 — The Hawaii Supreme Court has ordered the release of some individuals held in local and county jails. Individuals ordered released include pretrial detainees charged with a non-domestic violence related misdemeanor. The court said it would address early release of pre-trial detainees charged with a felony in a separate order.
August 17 — The state supreme court ordered the release of individuals being held pretrial on felony charges, as well as individuals serving less than 18 months as a condition of a felony deferral or probation. People charged with or convicted of sex crimes, burglary, or family abuse are not included in the release order.
April 3 — Judges are issuing summonses instead of arrest warrants for failure to appear in Kootenai County, where jail overcrowding has heightened concerns about coronavirus.
March 20 — Cook County has begun releasing inmates who fall into specific categories: nonviolent, elderly, pregnant, or with underlying health issues. On March 24, the Chicago Sun-Times reported judges will begin reviewing cases in response to a public defender’s emergency motion seeking immediate release of some inmates, including those who are older, have health conditions, couldn’t pay their bonds, or are charged with low-level, non-violent felony and misdemeanor crimes. The goal of the effort is to reduce the jail population by 5,600.
March 23 — Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order easing restrictions on early releases for state prisoners for good behavior.
March 27 — The governor issued an executive order blocking transfers from county jails to state prisons.
April 5 — The Department of Corrections has released about 500 state prisoners early. The department has not publicly discussed the criteria used to make release decisions except that individuals’ cases were reviewed for violent histories.
April 7 — Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order allowing the Department of Corrections to grant temporary releases for state prisoners who are “medically vulnerable.”
April 9 — DuPage County has reduced its jail population by 160. Those released include pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates who either were temporarily freed or who had their sentence “terminated satisfactorily.”
April 17 — The Cook County Jail has released 1,300 inmates, about 25% of its population, as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the sheriff work together to release some pretrial detainees and people serving time for lower-level offenses.
June 20 — Illinois prisons granted early release for about 3,400 people from March 1 to June 4.
March 29 — The Illinois Department of Corrections will release 1,000 individuals from prison a few months early as part of a federal lawsuit settlement. The suit came in response to COVID-19, and the state agreed to release some individuals assessed as having a low- and medium-risk of re-offending.
March 29 — County jails have released dozens of nonviolent inmates. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are reviewing individual cases.
April 14 — The Daviess County jail shrank its population from 200 to 135. The reduction came largely from temporarily sending home inmates in the work release program and transitioning some people who were nearing the end of their sentences onto probation.
July 14 — Statewide, 27 individuals in state prison have received COVID-related sentence modifications. Gov. Eric Holcomb has not issued an executive order granting early releases, leaving it to the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. From March through June, the state prison population declined by 3.8%, while county jail populations fell by 27%.
September 15 — The Howard County jail’s population is rebounding after decreasing earlier in the pandemic. The jail released about 100 individuals in the spring, reducing the population from 460 to 363. In mid-September, the population was back up to 429. The facility’s designed capacity is 364, and it had an average population of 384 the previous year.
September 28 — County jail populations declined significantly during the pandemic, including a 28% drop in Marion County (Indianapolis). An Indiana University study found jail populations in 11 counties shrunk by about 21% from February to April. State prisons released 27 people early. It’s unclear how much of the jail population decline was driven by efforts to reduce the number of people incarcerated, including early releases for individuals held for lower-level offenses and police issuing citations instead of making arrests, and an overall drop in crime.
November 17 — St. Joseph County courts and the sheriff will “assess” sentences of individuals incarcerated in the county jail and pretrial release decisions to consider them for release in order to reduce the jail population amid a surge in COVID cases.
March 3 — Since April 2020, the Boone County jail population has hovered around half of its normal average of about 225 people after law enforcement, judges, parole and probation officers, and prosecutors worked to release people. But with cases declining and vaccines now available, the jail is now accepting more individuals who are arrested and the sheriff expects to be back at full capacity by the end of the year.
March 22 — The number of people in Indiana jails fell 32% during the early part of the pandemic before increasing slightly in June of 2020.
March 23 — Jails in multiple counties have released dozens and possibly hundreds of inmates by shortening sentences, giving credit for time-served, or deferring imposition of sentences until a later date. Police in multiple counties are also issuing summonses for low-level, nonviolent offenses, excluding domestic violence.
March 25 — The state corrections department said it would soon begin releasing 700 state prisoners already deemed eligible for release by the parole board.
April 7 — Judges, prosecutors, and public defenders in Iowa are reviewing petitions for release on a case-by-case basis. They’ve released some pretrial detainees, as well as individuals serving sentences for lower-level, nonviolent offenses.
April 20 — State prisons released 811 individuals since March 1. Another 482 were approved for release.
September 12 — Iowa’s prison population dipped below 8,000 for the first time in 20 years. The state’s nine prisons held 7,406 individuals in early September, down from about 8,500 in early April. Factors behind the decline include expedited parole for older or sicker people and delays in court hearings.
February 3 — The number of individuals incarcerated in Iowa prisons who were granted parole increased 4% in 2020, but the overall grant rate fell by 4%.
August 29 — The state Parole Board increased releases in response to COVID-19, reducing overcrowding from 22% to a low of 9% before creeping back up to 12% as of June 30, 2021. The board’s chairman has set a goal of eliminating overcrowding over the next two years.
September 24 — The Linn County Sheriff’s Office is working with the district court to obtain court orders releasing some individuals after 18 incarcerated people tested positive for COVID-19.
March 26 — The Sedgwick County Jail has released about 200 pretrial detainees charged with lower-level offenses since mid-March. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement agencies are working to release more individuals.
May 1 — State officials halted a plan to reduce Kansas’ prison population after only six people were released to home confinement because of an outbreak in a facility outside Kansas City.
March 17 — Public defenders and prosecutors in Jefferson County agreed on releasing about 110 low-risk pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses.
March 29 — County jails have reduced their inmate populations 28 percent by releasing pretrial detainees and people serving time for misdemeanor sentences. The jails reduced their total population by 3,209 inmates in two weeks.
April 2 — Gov. Andy Beshear announced plans to release more than 900 state prisoners. That number includes 186 people serving time for lower-level felony sentences who received commutations under an executive order signed by the governor and 743 prisoners who are within six months of the end of their sentences.
April 14 — The state supreme court issued new rules calling for people charged with nonviolent, non-sex misdemeanors and felonies to be released on personal recognizance unless they pose a high risk for new criminal activity. Individuals facing felony charges and anyone considered high-risk for failing to appear will be supervised by pretrial services through monitored conditional release. Police will issue citations instead of making arrests on warrants for failure to pay court costs, fees, or fines. People arrested for contempt of court on civil matters or nonpayment of child support or restitution will be released on their own recognizance.
April 17 — Kentucky’s county jail population fell 38% statewide as judges release pretrial detainees and police make fewer arrests.
April 21 — The state supreme court issued emergency guidelines ordering the release on personal recognizance for individuals charged with nonviolent, non-sex misdemeanors or low-level felonies.
June 8 — Kentucky’s jail population fell 32% from late February through early June as judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys agreed to release pretrial detainees, most of whom were charged with lower-level, nonviolent, non-sex offenses. The re-arrest rate for those released while awaiting trial — 4.6% — remained unchanged during March and April compared to the same time period last year.
July 29 — Officials in Kentucky plan to release up to 700 people from state prisons, adding to the more than 1,200 people who’ve already been released early. The criteria will be the same as in the first round, with priority given to those who are medically vulnerable and those who are near the end of their sentences. Individuals convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses will not be eligible.
August 24 — Of more than 35,000 individuals who were released rather than jailed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 7% have been charged with a new offense, according to the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts.
August 26 — Gov. Beshear commuted the sentences of 646 people incarcerated in state prisons. Those who received commutations include 525 people who were within six months of their scheduled release and 121 who were medically vulnerable.
January 26 — Arrests in Louisville decreased 52% from February to June 2020, resulting in a 34% drop in the number of individuals held in city jails. Some types of crime — including assault, robbery, and homicide — have increased during the pandemic, as has the average length of stay in a jail, which peaked at 60 days in the fall.
May 11 — Efforts to reduce jail and prison populations during the pandemic eased overcrowding in Kentucky, but they are once again over capacity. The reductions in population were related to an administrative release program, which automatically released individuals who were serving jail sentences for certain convictions, and commutations by the governor. Some say recently passed legislation will add to overcrowding.
March 17 — The district attorney and judges in Ascension Parish are working to release nonviolent offenders on a case-by-case basis. The sheriff’s department is issuing summonses for misdemeanors instead of making arrests.
March 31 — District court judges ordered the Orleans Justice Center Parish Prison to release pretrial detainees held on low-level charges. The jail released 144 people over two weeks, resulting in a 14% drop in the population, but another 166 people remained jailed for nonviolent charges, including drugs, burglary, or possession of stolen property.
April 3 — The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court asked judges to work with prosecutors, public defenders, and sheriffs to do a “comprehensive and heightened risk-based assessment” for all detainees, except those convicted of felonies.
April 14 — The Department of Corrections announced that it’s forming a panel to consider temporary furloughs for some nonviolent individuals. State law allows furloughs for state prisoners and jail inmates who are in the final six months of their sentence. About 1,200 individuals are eligible to have their cases reviewed.
April 30 — The Louisiana Department of Corrections has granted early release from state prison for 53 people out of 249 considered so far. To be eligible under the department’s furlough program, individuals can’t have been convicted of violent or sex offenses and must be within six months of their release date.
May 7 — A panel created by Gov. John Bel Edwards to consider people in state prison for a furlough program has released 58 individuals out of the 289 it has reviewed.
June 3 — The Department of Corrections disbanded the furlough review panel created to review individuals for early release during the COVID-19 pandemic as the state moved forward with reopening. The panel reviewed 557 individuals and granted release for 92 of them — 0.3% of the state’s prison population.
August 10 — The ACLU has sued the Department of Corrections seeking documents related to its review of individuals under consideration for early release. A panel was initially tasked with reviewing 1,100 individuals serving sentences for lower-level offenses who had less than 180 days left to serve. The group ended up reviewing 600 cases and it recommended 100 for release, of which only 63 were expected to actually be released early.
March 30 — County jails in Maine have reduced their overall population by 20 percent, or about 320 people, over three weeks. Approaches vary by county and have included releasing pretrial detainees or not holding them on bail, granting early release for some inmates, and using summonses instead of arresting and jailing people for low-level offenses. The Department of Correction has started releasing smaller numbers of people from state prisons.
April 15 — Statewide, the number of people held in county jails has decreased 37% since February, and the state prison population is down 7%. In York County, judges are delaying sentences and police are issuing citations for some offenses instead of making arrests. Cumberland County has released some jail inmates with less than 90 days left before their scheduled release.
May 13 — The population in Maine’s 15 county jails fell by 40% in seven weeks as police issue more summonses and make fewer arrests, prosecutors and defense attorneys work together to release more pretrial detainees, and courts increase the number of days they can set bail for defendants.
June 8 — Maine prisons have released 95 people through a supervised community confinement program. To be eligible for the early release program, individuals must be classified as minimum security, be within 18 months of their scheduled release date, and have an approved plan for housing.
November 19 — Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason says the jail is furloughing individuals nearing the end of jail sentences for nonviolent offenses and is asking police departments “not to go actively warrant hunting” following a lockdown at the county jail.
February 8 — Cumberland County jails are limiting the number of individuals they will admit on lower-level, nonviolent charges. The limits apply to individuals charged with misdemeanors, motor vehicle felonies, or probation violations. Sheriff Kevin Joyce said the new policy will not jeopardize public safety.
September 16 — Police in Penobscot County are releasing some individuals after arresting them because there’s no space in the county jail to hold them. The jail is licensed to hold 157 people, but the population has swelled past that, driven by a backlog in court proceedings due to COVID-19.
December 7 — The York County Sheriff’s Office began limiting admissions to the county jail in September in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections in the area and staffing problems. The new policy prioritizes incarcerating individuals charged with violent offenses while not admitting people charged with offenses including misdemeanors, motor vehicle felonies, felonies not perpetrated against a person, and some probation violations.
March 18 — The Baltimore State’s Attorney ordered her staff to dismiss pending charges against people arrested for drug possession and attempted distribution, trespassing, prostitution, open container violations, and urinating in public. Prosecutors in Prince George’s County said they plan to release at least 40 people charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses.
March 27 — Prosecutors and the public defender’s office in Prince George’s County worked together to review cases of pretrial detainees, resulting in the release of 62 people in a week.
April 6 — In Baltimore, 60 low-risk jail inmates have been released following new or sped up bail hearings. The state’s attorney’s offices is reviewing additional cases.
April 14 — Maryland’s top judge directed judges to identify and release jail and prison inmates who have are more susceptible to catching coronavirus and don’t pose a risk to public safety. The directive also calls for expedited bail hearings and to consider defendants’ pre-existing health conditions when setting bail amounts.
April 19 — Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order expediting the release of up to 700 state prisoners whose were scheduled to leave incarceration over the next four months. The order also speeds up processing for home confinement and directs the parole board to consider releasing inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses who are older than 60, have a good record from their time in prison, and have an approved reentry plan.
November 18 — Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order making about 1,200 individuals in state prisons eligible for early release. The order allows corrections officials to grant releases to individuals scheduled to leave prison within 120 days and those eligible for home detention. The Parole Commission can also speed up parole for individuals who are 60 or older and have a good record and approved home plan. Individuals convicted of sex offenses or violent crimes are not eligible.
December 7 — Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office is reviewing cases of older prisoners to consider for possible early release. Mosby’s office has hired a public defender to review cases of incarcerated individuals who are older than 60 and who have served at least 25 years of a life sentence, or those who have served at least 25 years for a crime committed before they were 18. Only individuals whose cases are out of Baltimore City and who have a documented medical condition will be considered.
January 4 — Baltimore County eliminated fees for people on home detention in recognition of the extra financial burdens the pandemic has placed on individuals. Most people on home detention are awaiting trial on charges related to nonviolent offenses.
March 27 — Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office will no longer prosecute people charged with some lower-level offenses, including drug possession and prostitution. The changes follow a one-year experiment that successfully reduced the city’s overall incarcerated population by 18% in response to COVID-19. Violent crime and property crime also feel by 20% and 36%, respectively.
March 24 — The state’s highest court temporarily banned the use of GPS bracelets for pretrial defendants and probationers because putting one on requires close contact. The order includes exceptions for when a judge finds a “compelling public safety need.”
March 25 — Middlesex County has released more than 40 pretrial detainees. The district attorney is reviewing cases of sentenced inmates, prioritizing factors including nonviolent offenses and health risks, and has asked police to use discretion in making arrests. Franklin and Hampshire county jails have released 25% of pretrial detainees. Suffolk County is reviewing cases. Berkshire County has released one person.
April 3 — The state’s highest court issued a ruling calling for hearings to consider releasing pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses.
April 4 — The Department of Correction placed all state prisons on lockdown following the third inmate death from coronavirus.
April 14 — State prisons and county jails have released 367 people following the state Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that some prisoners could seek to be released, including pretrial detainees and individuals held on technical violations of parole and probation conditions.
April 22 — Massachusetts county jails and state prisons have released 637 people since April 5, following a ruling from the state’s highest court that some prisoners could seek early release, including pretrial detainees and those being held on certain parole and probation violations.
April 28 — The Middlesex County jail reduced its population from 787 to 610 between March and the end of April.
May 5 — Massachusetts jails and prisons released 993 people since April 3, according to a report from a special master appointed by the state’s highest court to track releases. The report did not say how many were released early in response to the pandemic or how many completed their sentences.
May 12 — State and county correctional facilities have released 1,158 people under the Supreme Judicial Court’s April ruling allowing pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses to seek release.
May 28 — The Middlesex County jail reduced its population 27% from the beginning of March through mid-May, from 788 to 578.
July 30 — Massachusetts jails and prisons released 2,567 people from April to July 22 following a decision from the state’s Supreme Judicial Court establishing a process to release some individuals who were being held while awaiting trial and others who were nearing the end of their sentences.
December 4 — Two Massachusetts prisoners hospitalized with COVID-19 died less than a day after they were granted medical parole.
December 15 — In a ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said release decisions should factor in the danger posed by COVID-19. The ruling says the courts’ goal should be to safely reduce the state’s prison population. Defense attorneys say the ruling has the potential to impact a significant number of cases where individuals are seeking release.
January 8 — The Department of Corrections will suspend operations at two facilities with the state’s prison population at its lowest level in nearly 35 years. The combined population of the two facilities is 192 people who will move to other facilities or be released to home confinement. The department also plans to begin releasing more individuals to home confinement beginning in February.
February 4 — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker called off a plan that shortened sentences for incarcerated individuals who got vaccinated against COVID-19. The plan had offered incarcerated people 7.5 days of good-time credit for getting both vaccine doses, as well as watching and reading educational materials about the virus.
February 9 — Language added to the state budget in late 2020 says the Department of Correction “shall release, transition to home confinement, or furlough” people who can be safely released to reduce the risk of COVID, but the department has released only a small number of individuals who were seriously ill for conditions not related to the pandemic. Prisoners’ rights organizations and defense attorneys say the language requires the department to act, while DOC officials say it reinforces the agency’s authority to determine who can be released safely.
March 14 — Forty-seven people have received medical parole out of more than 400 who have applied.
April 11 — Massachusetts’ prison population decreased by more than 2,000 people during the pandemic, falling to fewer than 6,000 people. The Department of Corrections announced plans to close its maximum-security prison in Walpole, which is operating at 68% capacity.
March 26 — Michigan’s chief justice and sheriff’s association issued guidelines for reducing jail populations, including that judges and sheriffs should use their statutory authority reduce and suspend jail sentences for people who do not pose a public safety risk, law enforcement should only arrest people and take them to jail if they pose an immediate threat to people in the community, judges should release far more people on their own recognizance, and judges should use probation and treatment programs as jail alternatives.
March 29 — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order halting transfers into and out of Department of Corrections facilities and suspended some regulations to make it easier for local officials to release vulnerable jail inmates who don’t pose a risk to public safety. Inmates identified as potentially eligible for early release from jails or local lockups include those who are elderly or chronically ill, pregnant women, people nearing their release date, and anyone incarcerated for a traffic violation, failure to appear, or failure to pay.
April 15 — The Department of Correction is working to speed up the parole process.
May 21 — A federal judge ordered the Oakland County jail to identify medically vulnerable individuals who can be transferred to home confinement or released to prevent them from catching COVID-19 in the jail.
June 2 — The Wayne County Jail population fell 40% in three months, and there are now more individuals on electronic monitoring than in the jail. Under a consent decree, a circuit court judge has authority to grant administrative releases. The judge signed releases for 200 individuals since March 10.
June 9 — Michigan’s prison population dropped 5.2% over three months, due to quicker parole reviews, fewer prisoners coming from county jails, and fewer parolees returning for technical violations.
July 10 — A federal appeals court overturned a lower court decision ordering the Oakland County Jail to compile a list of medically vulnerable individuals for possible early release. Attorneys representing incarcerated individuals who filed the class action suit are evaluating next steps.
July 13 — Michigan’s prison population has declined by 2.8%, and its county jail populations fell by a combined 27.5%.
July 22 — Michigan’s statewide jail population fell from 17,000 to 8,000 over a six-week period beginning in mid-March and have remained static since. Sheriffs and judges released individuals who didn’t hold a public safety risk, following an executive order by Gov. Whitmer and a directive from the state supreme court to identify individuals who could be released safely. Court closures and police making fewer arrests for minor offenses also contributed to the decline.
January 14 — The rate of releases for parole-eligible individuals in Michigan prisons fell from 72.4% in 2019 to 70.3% in 2020, its lowest level since 2015. As of January 2021, more than 240 parole-eligible individuals were being held past their first release date because the facilities where they’re held aren’t offering required pre-release coursework.
April 1 — A change in state law expands the range of misdemeanor offenses for which police can issue a ticket instead of making an arrest. Previously, only misdemeanors punishable by up to 93 days in jail were eligible. The change increases the threshold to misdemeanors that carry a penalty of up to a year in jail and follows efforts to reduce jail populations in response to COVID-19.
April 1 — The St. Louis County jail population declined by 59 people in March. Some inmates released were pretrial detainees.
April 13 — The Department of Corrections said as many as 25 state prisoners could be released within a week as it continues to review cases of individuals serving sentence for lower-level offenses and those at higher risk because of underlying health issues.
June 28 — The Ramsey County attorney’s office is opting not to prosecute fifth-degree drug possession charges and is considering dropping existing charges for individuals awaiting trial.
April 1 — The Department of Corrections has suspended in-person check-ins for people on community supervision. People on supervision are still required to check in by phone, email, or video chat, but they are not required to speak with their assigned agent.
March 26 — Prosecutors, public defenders, courts, and jail staff in St. Louis and St. Louis County finalized plans to release more than 140 jail inmates. Authorities are reviewing additional cases, focusing on individuals held on lower-level, nonviolent offenses who have health issues. Authorities in St. Charles County are taking similar steps to reduce their jail population.
March 27 — The Jackson County jail has released 80 inmates in response to the coronavirus. The county prosecutor’s office also announced that it’s minimizing bond conditions for defendants who don’t pose a danger to public safety or a flight risk.
October 14 — The Jackson County jail population has returned to pre-COVID levels since about 200 individuals were released to alleviate crowding.
February 9 — The number of bookings in the St. Louis County jail dropped 47% from February to October of 2020, but the jail population in October rebounded to the same level as February after a dip early on, according to a study of 25 counties by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance.
March 20 — Montana’s chief justice asked the state’s judges to review jail rosters and release without bond as many people as possible, especially those held for nonviolent offenses.
April 1 — The governor has directed the Department of Corrections to suspend transfers into prisons except when approved by the director.
April 17 — The Clark County Detention Center plans to release as many as 290 inmates — about 10% of the jail’s population. Inmates eligible for release include those sentenced for nonviolent misdemeanors who have served at least 75% of their time, individuals held on technical violations of parole or probation, and those with health issues.
April 18 — State prisons and county jails are working with prosecutors and defense attorneys to review cases of pretrial detainees and sentenced individuals who are nearing the end of their sentences. Attorneys are also working with the courts to expedite plea and sentencing hearings for individuals who may qualify for time-served, suspended sentences, or alternatives to incarceration.
January 19 — A judge ordered the release of a man who was being held at the Valley Street jail in Manchester, citing “abysmally inadequate” care he has received over more than a month after testing positive for COVID-19. The judge urged the man, who was being held pretrial on violent felony charges, to go to the emergency room after his release to home confinement. The individual is the third person released from the jail due to COVID-19.
March 23 — The state Supreme Court has ordered the release of county jail inmates serving time for a probation sentence or a municipal court conviction. The ACLU says the decision could affect 1,000 jail inmates. On March 24, it was reported that the official tally of inmates covered under the release order is 809. Prosecutors are challenging the release of 312 of them; the remaining 497 face no challenges.
April 10 — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order releasing state prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses whose age or health puts them at higher risk. Prison officials will also consider early release for prisoners whose sentences are due to run out in the next 90 days and those who’ve been denied parole within the last year.
April 23 — Two weeks after announcing plans to reduce its prison population by up to 1,100 inmates, New Jersey hadn’t begun to grant early releases. Corrections officials said steps required under the governor’s executive order, including conferring with prosecutors and victims and determining whether individuals had an appropriate home to go to, slowed the process.
April 28 — New Jersey prisons released 54 people to emergency medical home confinement. That’s 3% of the number of individuals eligible for furloughs under the governor’s April 10 executive order.
July 30 — New Jersey lawmakers are expected to pass legislation that could grant early release to more than 3,000 people in state prisons, or about 20% of the state prison population. The bill would allow the release of individuals up to eight months early based on credits they’ve earned. Individuals convicted of violent offenses would be eligible, but most of those serving sentences for sex offenses would not. New Jersey has already freed 800 people from state prisons following an executive order from the governor and 700 people from jails in response to a legal challenge. According to the ACLU, the bill is the first legislative initiative of its kind in response to the pandemic.
September 23 — New Jersey prisons have released about 360 people under the executive order the governor issued in April.
September 24 — The New Jersey State Assembly passed legislation, which the governor has said he will sign, allowing individuals in the final year of their prison sentence to be released up to eight months early. Among those ineligible for early release are individuals convicted of murder, or aggravated sexual assault, and anyone deemed a repetitive, compulsive sex offender. The bill requires victim notification and that individuals released early have no contact with victims.
October 19 — Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that’s expected to release more than 3,000 individuals from state prisons early over the next several months. Murphy’s office said about 2,000 people will be released Nov. 4 and about 1,000 more will be freed ahead of schedule through January. Some people on parole will also have their supervision end early, including about 1,400 people whose parole will end early on Nov. 4. The legislation is the first in the nation to grant early releases because of the pandemic.
November 5 — New Jersey prisons released 2,258 individuals on Nov. 4 following legislation designed to reduce the incarcerated population in response to COVID-19. Another 1,167 individuals will be released over the coming months. In all, the releases will lead to a 35% reduction in the state’s prison population.
February 13 — New Jersey’s supreme court said lower courts should consider releasing individuals who are being held pretrial if they’re charged with lower-level offenses and have been in custody for more than six months — the normal deadline for a trial to begin. Defense attorneys had sought a widespread release of hundreds of individuals charged with a wider range of offenses.
November 22 — New Jersey’s prison population fell by 40% over 11 months during the pandemic, declining from 18,000 to 10,800. A major contributor to the population drop was a law that allowed those within a year of release to get out up to eight months early. Nearly 5,300 individuals were released from adult and youth facilities from October 2020 to October 2021, when the window for early releases ended.
January 7 — Of the first 2,500 people released early from New Jersey prisons, 9% were back in custody a year later, lower than the overall pre-pandemic one-year recidivism rate of 16%. In all, 5,300 people were released early before the emergency measure expired in 2021. The “public health credits” helped cut the state’s prison population by 40% in 11 months.
January 14 — Gov. Phil Murphy re-declared a public health emergency, reactivating New Jersey’s early release law. The law freed more than 5,300 people ahead of schedule before Murphy ended the public health emergency in October 2021. Eligible individuals within a year of their release date can earn credits to be released up to eight months early.
March 14 — New Jersey prisons released a total of 852 people on March 13 under the states Public Health Emergency Credit Law. The Department of Corrections estimates another 870 people will be released early over the next few months, which would bring the total of early releases under the program to 8,200 for a reduction in the overall prison population of 42%.
April 9 — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order requiring early release for prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses who were due to be released within 30 days, provided they have a parole plan.
June 24 — New Mexico prisons have released 71 individuals early and are in the process of releasing more.
June 28 — New Mexico’s prison population reached a 20-year low during the pandemic after an executive order directed the Department of Corrections to reduce the number of incarcerated people, including early releases for some individuals. In late June, the population was at 5,662, or a 74% occupancy rate, down from 87% before the pandemic.
March 17 — Prosecutors in Kings County are declining to prosecute low-level offenses that don’t jeopardize public safety. On March 25, the district attorney’s office said it had declined to prosecute more than 90 low-level offenses in the previous week. The office has also reviewed more than 200 requests for release from defenders organizations.
March 21 — The New York City jails released 56 people who were being held pretrial, returned for a parole violation, or considered vulnerable to infection. On March 23, the mayor said he is reviewing a list of 200 inmates in city jails who could be released early, including prisoners with underlying health conditions, elderly people, and those who have served most of their time.
March 28 — The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision plans to release 1,100 people being held for low-level technical violations of parole.
April 8 — A Bronx judge ordered three pretrial detainees released after their attorneys argued that they are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
April 8 — New York lawmakers walked back a law that eliminated cash bail for most people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. The changes, which were part of a bill, allow judges to order defendants held on bail for an additional set of charges, as well as offenses that involve harm to a person or property.
April 10 — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that more than 1,500 people have been released from city jails in three weeks, bringing the jail population to its lowest level in 70 years. The vast majority of those released were being held for nonviolent offenses, misdemeanors, and technical violations of parole conditions; 329 were classified as “violent felony detainees.”
April 13 — Onondaga County (Syracuse) jails released 18 people held for technical violations of parole conditions. Judges are also reviewing bail decisions and the district attorney’s office is reviewing cases involving older prisoners with health issues.
May 6 — New York prisons have released eight women following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive to release individuals who are pregnant, serving sentences for nonviolent offenses, and have less than six months left to serve.
September 21 — New York City jails have released more than 1,950 people from jails in response to COVID-19, including 296 people with 90 days or less left on their sentence, 1,251 people held on parole violations, and 411 people released through the courts.
September 24 — New York State’s prison population has decreased by about 7,500 people since January.
November 25 — The Erie County District Attorney’s Office agreed to release three individuals early from county jail. All three were convicted of nonviolent offenses and had less than 45 days left on their sentences.
December 6 — New York City’s pretrial population is increasing following a rollback of statewide reforms limiting the offenses for which judges can order defendants held on bail. The number of people in pretrial detention fell 30% during the first wave of COVID-19 infections from March to April, but the numbers are on track to return to pre-pandemic levels by mid-February.
December 10 — The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has released more than 3,480 people from incarceration in response to COVID-19. More than two-thirds of those released were within 90 days of their scheduled release date.
January 25 — More than 70% of people held in New York City jails are housed in units above 50% capacity — the target for facilities to be able to maintain safe social distancing.
March 8 — New York City’s jail population dipped significantly in spring of 2020, but by February 2021, city jails held more people than in mid-March of the prior year.
March 10 —New York City’s jail population reached 3,900, its lowest level in more than 50 years, following efforts to reduce the number of people in custody during the pandemic. But the the population has fully rebounded to 5,500, three quarters of whom are being held pretrial.
September 17 — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she’s ordering the release of 191 individuals from the Rikers Island jail in New York City. Many of those individuals are incarcerated for parole violations. The jail primarily holds individuals awaiting trial and people serving less than a year. A new law that goes into effect in 2022 will largely prevent people from being jailed for minor parole violations statewide.
April 13 — The Department of Public Safety is taking steps to reduce North Carolina’s state prison population, including moving up to 500 individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses onto community supervision. Eligible prisoners include those who are pregnant, over 65 with an underlying health condition, women over 50 with an underlying health condition and a release date in 2020, over 65 with a release date in 2020, on home leave or work release and have a release date in 2020. The department is also awarding good-time credits to move up their release date.
May 3 — The Department of Public Safety has granted early release from prison to 485 people.
January 5 — The number of people in North Carolina county jails is shrinking, but those being held pretrial are spending longer behind bars. The average time pretrial detainees spend in jail increased from a week in January 2020 to about three weeks by the end of the year.
February 25 — North Carolina will release 3,500 individuals from prison early over the next six months as part of a settlement agreement. The releases will come in a mix of granting discretionary sentence credits, allowing some individuals to transfer to home confinement or a transitional program, and moving others to post-release supervision programs. At least 1,500 individuals were slated to be released in within 90 days as part of the agreement, with the rest to follow.
March 20 — The North Dakota Parole Board is attempting to mitigate the state’s prison population by granting parole to 56 people.
May 8 — The parole board has granted the release of 120 people from state prison. Those released include 94 people convicted of nonviolent offenses, 14 convicted of violent offenses, and 11 are registered sex offenders.
May 26 — North Dakota has reduced its prison population 19% since the beginning of the year. Steps to bring down the number of people in state prisons and local jails include the state parole board releasing 100 individuals and suspending new admissions, law enforcement agencies issuing summonses instead of making arrests, courts reducing bail amounts, and judges releasing some individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.
February 5 — North Dakota’s jail and prison populations decreased by 19% in the spring of 2020, but the downward trend reversed by the fall with the number of incarcerated people climbing.
March 14 — Judges in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) are holding special sessions to try to settle cases, release inmates or send them to prison, or release them on house arrest. On March 21, Cuyahoga County jails were down 700 inmates, Hamilton County (Cincinnati) was down about 600, and Franklin County (Columbus) was down 300. The reductions are from releasing nonviolent offenders, issuing citations instead of making arrests, and making plea deals to resolve cases more quickly.
March 25 — The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said more than 300 inmates have been released since March 16.
March 26 — Butler County has released hundreds of jail inmates to ease crowding. The jail population decreased from 1,033 to 873 in two weeks.
March 31 — Delaware County reduced its jail population to 110 inmates from 220 over a month by expediting cases to release low-level, nonviolent offenders.
April 3 — Gov. Mike DeWine is asking judges to consider early release for 15 state prisoners who are over 60 and 23 who are pregnant or recently gave birth.
April 7 — The governor said he will seek to release about 160 state prisoners. Most of those prisoners were scheduled to be released within 90 days, are serving time for nonviolent offenses, and have not been incarcerated before. Others are over 60 and have health issues.
April 15 — Gov. DeWine approved the release of 105 nonviolent state prisoners, bringing the total of early releases from the prison system to about 500. All were scheduled to be released within the next 90 days.
April 17 — Gov. Mike DeWine commuted the sentences of seven people in state prison.
August 15 — The Montgomery County Jail population is increasing after a dramatic decline in the early weeks of the pandemic. The 650 individuals in the jail in August is about 200 people below the average daily population pre-COVID, but up from a low of 450 people in March. The county sheriff is still advising law enforcement to consider alternatives to making arrests for lower-level offenses, but that most of individuals held in the jail are there for more serious charges than a non-violent misdemeanor.
September 8 — Ohio’s state prison population fell from 50,000 before COVID-19 hit the state in March to about 44,600, its lowest level since 2005.
December 14 — The Cuyahoga County jail is releasing individuals convicted of misdemeanors to reduce the jail population as COVID-19 infections continue to spread among incarcerated individuals and staff. The jail is also refusing to admit people charged with misdemeanors. The jail will continue to hold individuals charged with, or convicted of, misdemeanor domestic violence offenses.
May 23 — The Licking County Sheriff’s Office put in place policies at the beginning of the pandemic that ultimately reduced the county jail population 26%. The changes included asking judges to consider early releases, placing those being held on probation violations on GPS monitoring, and law enforcement issuing summonses in lieu of making arrests for lower-level offense.
March 25 — The Oklahoma County jail has released more than 200 lower-level, nonviolent individuals.
April 16 — Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the sentences of 450 people in state prison.
July 15 — Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board has recommended the release of several hundred people convicted of drug and property offenses in 2020, up from 16 people recommended for commutations in 2017.
July 19 — Oklahoma’s prison population decreased 9.4% from March to July. A third of the decline came from prisons not allowing transfers from county jails. Court closures also meant fewer individuals are being sentenced to prison. And the Pardon and Parole Board has also recommended the release of more individuals compared to last year, including 12 people recommended for release in May because they had an elevated risk.
January 21 — The Oklahoma County Jail population is at its lowest level in nearly a decade. When accounting for individuals who remain at the jail because COVID restrictions prevent them from transferring to state prisons, the population average for 2020 was 1,624 compared to more than 2,500 in previous years. Officials credit a program that helps individuals reduce fines and fees to help clear old warrants with making a significant dent in the population.
February 3 — The rate of individuals in Oklahoma prisons who were granted parole fell 42% in 2020 compared to 2019.
March 23 — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said it has released 121 inmates from a jail population of 574. Sheriffs in Multnomah and Tillamook counties are also working with prosecutors and parole officials to release low-level offenders.
April 15 — The Multnomah County jail population is down 30%. Officials are releasing some inmates early and issuing citations instead of making arrests for some charges.
April 15 — At the request of Gov. Kate Brown, the Department of Corrections identified 3,244 state prisoners who fall into categories she said she would consider for early release based on their offense, sentence, age, and health conditions. The governor has said she will not grant mass releases.
May 3 — The number of individuals in Oregon county jails has fallen by almost half. Reduction efforts vary by county and include police making fewer arrests and jails identifying individuals held for nonviolent offenses who are eligible for early release because of preexisting health issues or because they’re nearing the end of their sentences.
June 12 — Gov. Kate Brown announced plans to release medically vulnerable individuals from state prisons. The criteria for release include that individuals cannot be serving a sentence for a crime against another person and they must have served at least half their sentence, have a suitable housing plan, have a record of good conduct for the past year, and not present a risk to the community. The Department of Corrections estimates about 100 individuals could be eligible.
June 24 — The Department of Corrections has identified 61 individuals who could be eligible for early release as part of Gov. Brown’s plan to reduce the prison population. The individuals are considered medically vulnerable and are mostly serving sentences for drug or property offenses and are scheduled to be released this year or next. A group of state lawmakers had called for immediate release of 2,000 individuals, or about 14% of the inmate population.
June 25 — Gov. Brown approved early release of 57 individuals from state prisons.
December 2 — Gov. Kate Brown again loosened the criteria for early releases from state prisons.
December 9 — In September, Gov. Kate Brown commuted the sentence of 66 individuals who were at higher risk for COVID-19 and within two months of their release. However, 13 of those individuals remain incarcerated. Corrections officials say the holdup is due to finding suitable housing.
December 16 — The Coos County Jail is operating at 50% capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions and a staffing shortage. Due to the smaller number of beds, the sheriff’s office is releasing people charged with some lower-level offenses.
March 17 — The Philadelphia police commissioner said police will delay arrests for people charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, including drug crimes, theft, vandalism, and prostitution.
March 23 — The Pennsylvania Department of Correction is sending all new inmates and individuals returned on parole violations to one location to minimize the chances of spreading the virus in state prisons.
March 25 — The Mercer County jail released 60 of 308 inmates to free up space for a potential quarantine.
April 1 — Pennsylvania is speeding up the release of state prisoners by expediting parole hearings for those who’ve reached their minimum sentence date and allowing some prisoners to complete pre-release programming in the community. The combined efforts led to the release of 574 prisoners in March.
April 10 — Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the Department of Corrections to begin releasing state prisoners to community corrections facilities or home confinement. The temporary reprieve program applies only to individuals who are nonviolent and who would’ve been eligible for release within the next nine months or who have an elevated risk of complications from the coronavirus and are due to be released within the next 12 months.
April 11 — Philadelphia jails have released 238 inmates, including pretrial detainees charged with lower-level, nonviolent offenses and others who had already completed their minimum sentence. Prosecutors and public defenders submitted lists of candidates for special review hearings. Bucks and Delaware counties have reduced their jail populations by more than 20%.
April 15 — The first seven state prisoners were released on temporary reprieves signed by Gov. Wolf. Prisoners granted temporary reprieves will likely have to return to prison to resume their sentences after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
April 22 — Judges reduced Philadelphia’s jail population 17% in April, releasing some nonviolent pretrial detainees who were held on low-bail. Unions representing jail workers are urging the release of more inmates.
May 8 — Pennsylvania prisons have released fewer than 150 people under a temporary reprieve program that officials estimated 1,500 to 1,800 individuals would be eligible for.
May 11 — Philadelphia jails have released more than 1,000 people during the pandemic.
August 18 — Fewer than 200 people had been released from prison under Gov. Wolf’s reprieve program as of July, despite initial estimates that as many as 1,800 individuals could be eligible. The overall prison population is down about 3,800 people, largely due to a decrease in admissions because of county court closures and scheduled releases.
June 1 — Officials in Northampton County are requiring 28 people who were granted extended furloughs during the pandemic to return to prison in July to finish their sentences.
June 14 — The Allegheny County Jail’s population fell by more than a third to 1,636 individuals early in the pandemic, driven partly by the release of more than 500 individuals in March 2020 who were considered high risk for complications from COVD-19. As of early June 2021, the population has risen 5% from its low, reaching 1,831 people. Some county officials are hoping to make permanent changes to keep the jail population lower, and the county has received an infusion of state funding to strengthen electronic monitoring and drug and alcohol treatment programs.
September 12 — The Allegheny County Jail’s population remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels. On March 1, 2020, the jail housed 2,458 people; in June 2021, the population was 1,831.
October 12 — Pennsylvania’s prison population has reached a 20-year low of about 36,700 individuals, a reduction of 8,300 people since the start of the pandemic. The reductions followed efforts to shrink the prison population, including increasing parole releases and granting pardons.
April 3 — The Rhode Island Supreme Court approved the release of 52 people from state prison, all of whom were serving sentences for nonviolent offenses. Prosecutors, public defenders, and corrections officials worked together to consider individual cases based on the person’s risk of re-offending and whether they had a home to go to.
March 16 — The chief justice of the state’s highest court ordered the release of all pretrial detainees charged with a “non-capital” crime, unless they pose an unreasonable danger or extreme flight risk. Anderson County released more than 40 pretrial detainees.
April 10 — The state supreme court ordered the release of defendants charged with non-capital offenses without bail, unless they pose an unreasonable danger or an extreme flight risk. Greenville County’s jail population fell by a quarter over a month. In one week, 85% of defendants were released on personal recognizance compared to 15% for the same week last year.
August 13 — Greenville’s jail population reached 920 in August after hitting a low of 806 in June. The jail’s average daily population before COVID-19 emerged was about 1,200. As the jail population rises, there are fewer people on a home confinement program with GPS monitoring.
August 7 — South Dakota’s prison population fell by 11% from March to August, mostly due to a decline in court activity, not early releases. An executive order signed by Gov. Kristi Noem in April created alternative sanctions for individuals on parole who test positive in a drug screen.
March 19 — The Nashville Metro police chief said officers will use “maximum discretion” in issuing citations in lieu of making misdemeanor arrests, excluding DUI and domestic violence.
March 23 — Davidson County (Nashville) released of 25 inmates. The district attorney and a public defender agreed to pursue early release for 80 people from a list of 264 names compiled by the sheriff who are considered particularly vulnerable to catching and spreading the virus.
March 24 — Local jails in Nashville released 25 people on March 23, and prosecutors and public defenders have agreed to release dozens more.
March 26 — The Tennessee Supreme Court ordered local judges to submit plans for reducing their jail populations by March 30. The order called on judges, law enforcement, and attorneys to work together in planning to release low-risk, individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. The Davidson County district attorney and public defender agreed on the release of dozens of inmates, 25 of whom had been released.
March 27 — Tennessee prisoners who’ve been granted parole aren’t being released because they’ve been unable to complete required programming that’s been suspended or reduced to accommodate social distancing.
March 30 — Knox County judges ordered the Sheriff’s Office to book and then release people charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies rather than jailing them. People charged with domestic violence or drunken driving are exempt from the order, and prosecutors can seek to block releases of individuals they believe are dangerous.
April 1 — Knox County detention facilities reduced their population by 20 percent in less than two weeks by not requiring bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors or, if the defendant is indigent, nonviolent felonies.
April 3 — Jail populations in West Tennessee are falling as coordination between judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies has resulted in lower bail amounts, fewer arrests for nonviolent offenses, and some early releases.
April 8 — Hundreds of jail inmates and state prisoners have been released from incarceration. Judges, sheriffs, prosecutors, and defense attorneys worked together to reduce local jail populations, while the parole board agreed to revisit cases of defendants who were granted parole but were not able to complete programming required for them to be released.
April 8 — Under direction from the state supreme court to reduce jail populations, judges in the 9th Judicial District reduced the combined inmate population across six counties by 21% over five business days. County jails have allowed early release for some inmates serving sentences for lower-level, nonviolent offenses; granting good time credit; and shifting people onto community supervision.
April 20 — So far, 167 Davidson County jail inmates have been released early. Of that group, seven were re-arrested, including six for “public intoxication-type” offenses.
June 21 — Tennessee’s jail population fell by 30%, or more than 9,100 individuals, from the end of February to the end of April.
March 12 — Police in Bexar County (San Antonio) are suspending arrests for minor offenses.
March 16 — Judges in Travis County (Austin) are releasing more defendants on bond to reduce the jail population.
March 17 — Police in Fort Worth are issuing citations instead of arresting and booking people accused of low-level offenses.
March 18 — The district attorney in Harris County (Dallas) is not prosecuting individuals charged with many low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors.
March 21 — Harris County has reduced its jail population by 6.5%. Officials are identifying inmates who are over 50 and awaiting trial on nonviolent charges to see if they could be eligible for release. The county also released six of 12 pregnant women. On March 26, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said it had reduced the population in three county jails from 8,500 to 8,000 over a week.
March 29 — The governor of Texas issued an executive order blocking individuals charged with or previously convicted of crimes involving violence or the threat of violence from being released on bond, receiving a commutation, or being placed on community supervision. The order also prevents automatic release on bond if the state is not ready for trial. It does allow judges to consider releasing inmates for health reasons. On April 10, a judge blocked the order, saying it violated the constitutional separation of powers.
March 31 — Harris County plans to release about 1,000 pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses.
April 3 — Harris County released a handful of low-risk pretrial detainees before a district judge voided another judge’s order to reduce the jail population.
April 11 — Texas prisons have stopped accepting transfers of new inmates from county jails.
June 16 — Texas prisons will begin accepting people transferred from county jails three months after suspending all intakes. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also said it will begin moving thousands of individuals previously approved for parole to facilities where they can complete programming required before they can be released.
July 31 — Brazos County Jail officials are working with prosecutors and judges to reduce bail for some pretrial detainees charged with non-violent offenses. Through July, 33 individuals have had their request for release granted.
August 18 — The Bexar County Jail population dipped below 3,000 individuals during the COVID-19, but has rebounded to its pre-pandemic level of more than 4,800. The sheriff attributed the increase to a backlog of individuals awaiting transfer to state prisons or treatment programs.
January 16 — A federal judge asked Harris County officials to review possibilities for releasing up to 1,900 individuals from one of the largest jails in the country to relieve overcrowding. Officials will consider whether 1,151 people charged with lower-level, nonviolent felony offenses are eligible to have their bail reduced. They will also consider releasing an additional 360 individuals charged with nonviolent offenses, and 420 individuals who remain in custody because they can’t be transferred to a halfway house because of the pandemic.
January 25 — After a sharp decline in March and April, the Harris County Jail population has increased steadily, reaching nearly 8,900 individuals in January.
January 28 — Across Texas, many county jails are filling up, creating a space crunch fueled by courts being shut down and a large number of individuals held pretrial unable to make bail. In some counties, prosecutors and legislators have opposed efforts to reduce jail populations, such as lowering bail amounts. Notably, jails in Travis and Dallas counties are well below capacity after judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys cooperated on population reduction efforts. Dallas County used bond reduction, diversion to treatment, and discretion not to prosecute people for certain lower-level charges. A study in Harris County found that releasing more individuals charged with misdemeanors did not lead to more individuals being arrested for new offenses.
June 14 — Gov. Greg Abbott has rescinded all but two pandemic restrictions, including one that limits releases of pretrial defendants on no-cost bonds and prevents individuals serving short sentences for misdemeanor offenses from being released early for good behavior.
June 17 — In the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 18 people who had already been granted parole died after contracting the coronavirus while incarcerated in Texas prisons. Delays in availability of mandated pre-release classes increased during the pandemic, lengthening the time individuals spent incarcerated after being granted parole.
March 21 — The district attorney in Salt Lake County said officials planned to release at least 90 inmates, mostly women. All are nonviolent offenders and most were jailed for technical violations or failure to appear. Additional releases could total up to 200.
March 26 — The Department of Corrections asked the parole board to release 80 state prisoners who are within 90 days of their scheduled release and have an approved address in the community.
March 30 — Northern Utah jails are seeing decreases in their populations as police departments issue summonses for low-level, nonviolent offenses and jails release inmates early, either because their sentences are almost up or for good time credit.
April 11 — The Salt Lake County Jail is at 65% capacity, the lowest inmate count since 1983. The district attorney said the jail has released low-risk pretrial detainees and granted good time credit to release some nonviolent sentenced inmates early.
July 2 — The Weber County Sheriff’s Office is working with the county attorney and judges to release some individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses early.
July 30 — The Cache County sheriff granted furloughs to individuals participating in a work-release program to avoid potentially exposing other incarcerated individuals and staff.
March 26 — The Vermont Department of Corrections has released more than 200 inmates since late February. The prison population has declined by 213 people since December.
March 20 — The commonwealth’s attorney, defense bar, jail, and courts in Prince William County are working to identify nonviolent offenders to release following call from the governor to reduce populations through sentence modifications, summons instead of arrest for misdemeanors, and alternatives to incarceration.
April 17 — Virginia’s total jail population has decreased 17% under new guidelines to reduce the number of inmates. The guidelines include allowing sentence modifications, issuing summonses instead of making arrests for low-level offenses, and releasing more pretrial detainees.
May 8 — The Department of Corrections approved early release for 230 individuals in state prison after the Legislature approved an emergency proposal from Gov. Ralph Northam granting DOC the power to release individuals who have less than a year left to serve and a record of good behavior. The governor’s administration estimates that 2,000 of the 30,000 people in state prisons fall into that category.
July 13 — The early release program the General Assembly approved in April has freed 517 people. Two-thousand individuals were originally expected to qualify.
August 21 — The Roanoke City Jail released 61 individuals early. The individuals’ charges, scheduled release date, and health conditions were factors in release decisions.
October 15 — Virginia officials have granted early releases for 606 people serving sentences in state prisons and 303 people incarcerated in local jails over the course of the pandemic. Those released had less than a year left to serve. Individuals convicted of a violent sex offense or major felony were not eligible for early release.
February 5 — About a dozen individuals have been released from a regional jail in Winchester, and officials said up to 20 more people could soon be released to home confinement.
April 11 — As of April 4, 1,151 individuals had been released from Virginia prisons, and another 651 from local jails under the COVID-19 early release plan the General Assembly approved in the spring of 2020. Additionally, an earned sentence credit program, which goes into effect in January 2022, will allow individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses to reduce their sentences by up to a third. An estimated 14,000 individuals could qualify for early release under the program.
June 16 — An early release program designed to reduce the number of people in prison during the pandemic will end July 1, 2021. Since the program went into effect in April 2020, 2,114 people who had less than a year left to serve were released early; 1,326 were released from state prison facilities, and 788 from local jails.
April 13 — In response to an order from the Washington Supreme Court, Gov. Jay Inslee said the Department of Corrections will grant early release 950 state prisoners. The individuals who will be released are serving sentences for nonviolent drug- or alcohol-related offenses, and those held on lower-level supervision violations. Some will have their sentences commuted and others will transition through a reentry program.
April 16 — The Department of Corrections has identified 1,100 state prisoners who will be released following the governor’s emergency order to reduce the prison population. The individuals who will be released are serving sentences for nonviolent, non-sex offenses. Some will receive sentence commutations, some will go through a “rapid reentry” program, and some will be furloughed.
August 3 — Spokane County jails had a combined population of 644 in early August after years of hovering between 900 and 1,000 individuals. Court orders required the release of many individuals who were being held pretrial. Others who were serving sentences for lower-level offenses were furloughed.
January 19 — The King County prosecutor’s office says it’s not asking for bail for people charged with most nonviolent, first-time offenses, and that it’s working with jail staff to review cases individually. Unions representing public defenders and corrections officers are calling for county and city leaders to stop booking people charged with nonviolent offenses and release people charged with nonviolent crimes who are already incarcerated.
January 8 — Washington, D.C.’s jail population increased 19% to 1,487 individuals from mid-June to November 2020. The increase was mainly due to more individuals being held pretrial on felony charges.
April 1 — West Virginia jails reduced their combined jail population by 616 people. The overall prison population also declined. The state’s highest court has asked judges, magistrates, and prosecutors to identify pretrial detainees who could be released without posing a risk to public safety. The state prison system released 70 people who were serving short terms for violating the terms of their supervision, and extended weekend furloughs to two weeks for 70 more people.
March 12 — The Racine County Sheriff’s Office temporarily stopped accepting new prisoners except for violent felonies and misdemeanors that pose a threat to public safety. Domestic violence offenses are excluded.
May 8 — County jails and the Department of Corrections’ Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility have released 1,600 people since March 2. Most of those released were incarcerated for community supervision violations.
March 25 — The number of people in Wisconsin’s jails and prisons dropped significantly from February 2020 through February 2021. The prison population fell almost 16%, reaching its lowest level since 1999. Jail populations also dropped dramatically in the early months of the pandemic. The prison population fell due to a halt on new admissions, delays in trials, and fewer people having their community supervision revoked. Some jail systems released people from incarceration to community supervision and did not admit individuals charged with misdemeanors.
July 31 — Wisconsin’s local jail population fell by more than a third in spring of 2020; it’s increased since but is still 24% lower than pre-pandemic. Prisons and jails held a combined 30,000 individuals in December 2020, the lowest level in more than two decades. In spring of 2020, the number of people held in local jails on community supervision violations decreased 53%.
October 8 — Wisconsin’s prison population topped 20,000 individuals for the first time since January 2021. Officials attributed the increase to courts accelerating criminal case proceedings, which slowed during the pandemic, and the Department of Corrections lifting limits on intakes from county jails. The prison population reached a low of 19,347 in May 2021, down from 23,392 in early 2020.
March 20 — The Fremont County jail has released 30 nonviolent inmates, including inmates who were close to the end of their sentences and people jailed for probation violations.
March 24 — The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has imposed a 14-day quarantine on all new prisoners coming into the system.
March 26 — A federal judge in New York City has ordered the release of 10 people facing deportation proceedings because their attorneys said they were at higher risk of getting coronavirus because of health problems.
March 26 — Attorney General William Barr issued new guidelines to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to explore releasing some at-risk inmates to home confinement. Out of 146,000 federal prisoners, one third have pre-existing health conditions and 10,000 are over the age of 60. Inmates serving sentences for violent crimes or sex offenses will not be eligible.
March 31 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced that beginning April 1, all federal prisoners will be confined to their quarters for at least 14 days. During that time, they will continue to have access to programming, such as educational programs and mental health treatment, “to the extent practicable.”
April 3 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons has transitioned 522 people to home confinement. Under broadened authority granted through the Cares Act, the attorney general is seeking to speed up releases to home confinement at prisons in Danbury, Conn.; Oakdale, La.; and Elkton, Ohio, where there have been outbreaks of coronavirus.
April 4 — Nine undocumented immigrants were released from the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts on ICE detainers. None of them had criminal records.
April 6 — Attorney General William Barr encouraged federal prosecutors to consider the risk of spreading coronavirus in making requests for bail.
April 16 — Forty-six people detained by ICE in the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts have been released in response to a lawsuit filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights.
April 23 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons broadened eligibility for individuals to be released on home confinement to include those who have served at least 25% of their sentences and have less than 18 months left. Prior guidelines only included prisoners who had served 50% of their sentences. Federal authorities have released about 1,500 prisoners to home confinement; the new guidelines would add about 200 more.
April 28 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons has moved more than 1,700 people convicted of nonviolent offenses to home confinement.
May 2 — A federal judge ordered the release of two people facing deportation proceedings because they have health conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19.
May 5 — A federal judge ordered the release of two immigrant detainees who were in ICE custody at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts, bringing the total to 50.
May 13 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons has transitioned 2,431 people to home confinement.
May 13 — A federal judge in Michigan ordered the release of two immigrant detainees because pre-existing health issues made them more vulnerable to coronavirus.
May 22 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons planned to begin moving 6,800 individuals from local detention centers to federal prisons. The individuals were convicted fo federal crimes but remained in local lockups to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 in the federal prison system.
August 13 — Because of concerns over COVID-19, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has suspended some early release programs that allowed individuals with substance use issues and others to complete courses that would reduce their sentences. Individuals who were enrolled in the programs, including those who had been expecting to wrap up their requirements and leave prison within days or weeks, are now stuck in limbo.
August 31 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons has released 7,593 people to home confinement since March.
September 2 — More than 1,200 individuals in the federal prison system have received compassionate release during the pandemic.
September 8 — Federal judges in Colorado granted five of 42 requests for compassionate release from March through August.
September 18 — Nearly 1,600 people have successfully petitioned for compassionate release from the federal prison system, a tenfold increase from last year. Additionally, 7,600 people have been transferred to home confinement.
December 11 — A federal judge ordered the immediate release of 17 individuals from the federal prison in Danbury, Conn., after finding administrators were not moving fast enough to release eligible people. All 17 individuals were being held in a low-security facility.
January 11 — Forty-two federal prisoners in the Western District of Washington have been granted compassionate release since March.
January 26 — In the final four months of 2020, federal judges in Colorado granted three requests for sentence reductions from individuals with health issues out of two-dozen who petitioned for early release.
February 8 — From March 2020 to February 2021, more than 21,300 individuals were released from federal prisons on expanded eligibility for home confinement. That’s at least 7,200 more than would’ve normally been eligible. In President Trump’s final days in office, the Justice Department issued an opinion saying that once the threat from the pandemic has subsided, released individuals will have to return to prison if they haven’t passed the normal threshold for release to home confinement or a halfway house: reaching the final six months or 10% of their sentence. It’s unclear how many of the 7,700 individuals on home confinement under the federal system that could apply to if the Biden administration does not rescind the opinion.
March 18 — Federal judges granted compassionate release to 2,271 people from 2020 to mid-January 2021. At least 54 people incarcerated in federal prisons have died from COVID-19 after having their request for compassionate release denied or left pending.
May 7 — About 4,500 individuals released to home confinement could be required to return to federal prison after as much of a year unless the Biden administration rescinds a Justice Department memo issued under former President Trump.
June 11 — Federal courts granted 2,549, or about 21%, of the more than 12,000 motions for compassionate release individuals incarcerated in federal prisons filed in federal courts in 2020. Nearly 31,000 people petitioned the Federal Bureau of Prisons for compassionate release during that time; the bureau approved 36 of those petitions.
August 6 — More than 24,000 people have been released from federal prison to home confinement since March 2020. Of those, three have committed new crimes and about 150 have been returned to custody for violating the terms of their community supervision.
August 6 — Of the nearly 31,000 people who’ve petitioned the Federal Bureau of Prisons for compassionate release, 36 have been approved. Separately, more than 3,000 have successfully appealed to a judge under the First Step Act and received compassionate release. Incarcerated individuals sentenced before November 1987 are not eligible to seek compassionate release under the First Step Act; a bill in Congress is seeking to change that.
December 12 — The Justice Department has ruled that the Federal Bureau of Prisons does not have to return thousands of individuals to prison after they were released on home confinement during the pandemic. The decision reverses an order issued in the final days of the Trump administration.
January 26 — A Justice Department report found that the risk assessment tool used to determine whether people incarcerated in federal prisons are eligible for early release under the First Step Act is racially biased and disadvantages people of color.
February 3 — Of more than 37,000 individuals released from federal prisons to home confinement under the CARES Act, 320 have been returned to custody. Of those 320, eight people were returned after they were charged with new crimes; the remaining 312 were returned for technical violations.
March 7 — As of early March 2022, more than 38,000 people were released to home confinement during the pandemic. Of those, 9,000, or 6% of the federal prison population, were transferred directly because of the CARES Act. Critics say many more at-risk people should have been released.
March 11 — The Department of Justice is reversing a practice that prevented individuals’ ability to seek compassionate release in most federal plea agreements. The vast majority of convictions come through plea agreements, which had often included language that required defendants to waive their right to seek compassionate release.
March 11 — In fiscal year 2020, 1,805 people were granted compassionate release from federal prison, more than 12 times more people than in 2019.
March 12 — Federal courts in liberal leaning multi-state judicial regions granted requests for compassionate release far more often than conservative ones during the pandemic. Between March and April 2020, there was a 900% increase in the number of federal inmates who applied for compassionate release. The overall grant rate for 7,000 individuals who applied from October 2019 through September 2020 was 26%. In the liberal-leaning 1st Circuit, the rate was 47.5%, compared to 13.7% in the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit.
April 22 — A controversial formula that adjusts kidney test scores based on race has come under scrutiny after federal judges used it to deny medical release for incarcerated Black individuals who said kidney problems put them at elevated risk for dangerous complications from COVID-19. Some medical experts and health care systems say the decades-old formula is outdated and leads to inaccurate diagnoses for patients who are Black. Its use in federal courts to inform medical release decisions has been highlighted during COVID-19 pandemic, during which 20,000 incarcerated people have sought early release due to health issues.
March 28 — New York University’s Public Safety Lab reports that 277 jails it’s monitoring have reduced their total population by nearly 20 percent since March 1. Some Washington state jails have reduced their populations by nearly half.
May 8 — Ten states have acted to reduce the number of youth in locked detention facilities. The governors of Colorado and Michigan issued executive orders to speed releases. Eight additional states also reduced their populations of young people in detention: Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Georgia.
May 14 — The overall U.S. prison population fell by 1.6%, or about 20,000 people, in the first three months of 2020.
May 14 — Across the country, jails have seen more significant population decreases (30% on average) compared to prisons (5% on average), according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
June 25 — Nationwide, states have reduced their median jail populations by 20%, but there is wide variation among states, ranging from a 42% reduction in Arkansas to 2% in Texas, according to an analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative. The number of people in state prisons has decreased by about 5%. Governors in 16 states have issued executive orders halting new prison admissions, releasing medically vulnerable individuals, early release for those nearing the end of the their sentence, or some combination.
July 16 — More than 100,000 people were released from state and federal prisons in March and June. The prison population dipped by 8% nationwide during those months compared to 2% in all of 2019. Prisons halting new admissions from county jails, fewer people being sentenced because of court closures, and parole officers sending fewer people back to prison for low-level violations had a more significant impact than COVID-19 related early release programs, according to an analysis by the Marshall Project and the Associated Press.
July 27 — Efforts to reduce jail populations have not led to increases in crime, according to a study by the ACLU using data from the Vera Institute of Justice. Out of 29 counties reviewed, 24 reduced their jail populations between 5% and 40% while also seeing crime go down.
August 6 — The number of people in U.S. jails decreased by 22% from mid-March to mid-April, and there were 200,000 fewer people incarcerated in jails by June, the largest decrease ever recorded, according to research by the Vera Institute of Justice. Factors that contributed to the decrease include fewer arrests and jail bookings, judges and prosecutors agreeing to release individuals deemed to pose no public safety risk, and public defenders filing motions for release of their clients.
August 13 — After a dramatic decrease in the early months of COVID-19, jail populations are rising, according to an analysis of 668 U.S. jails by the Prison Policy Initiative. In 12% of those jails, the number of incarcerated individuals was higher in July than in March, though the combined population of the surveyed jails has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Some big cities, like Philadelphia, have scaled back efforts to cut down jail populations, including early releases and forgoing arrests for lower-level, nonviolent offenses.
September 3 — The COVID-19 mortality rate is twice as high for individuals in prison compared to the general population, according to a new study. A separate study found jail populations decreased 31% on average from March 1 to May 1, then bounced back up 12% from May 2 to July 20. The proportion of those held in jail who are Black, mail, 25 or younger, or charged with at least one felony increased, while the share of those who are white, female, or booked on only misdemeanors decreased. Those who were released from jail were no more likely to be re-booked than the general population.
October 28 — The number of people held in the largest jails and state prisons nationwide fell by 170,000 in the spring of 2020, an 11% decline. Tens of thousands of individuals were freed early or diverted from jail in large and small communities across the political spectrum.
December 4 — Since the start of the pandemic, 41 states have instituted early release programs for medically vulnerable individuals. The population fell 14% in federal facilities, 22% in U.S. jails, and 4.2% in state prison systems.
January 20 — Prison systems across the country have reduced or suspended programming required for incarcerated individuals to earn credits for time off their sentences. The result has meant individuals spending more time in prison than they otherwise would have. Two states, California and New Jersey, made it easier for individuals to earn time credits. In August 2020, California applied 12 weeks of credit for all individuals incarcerated in state prisons who had no rule violations. More than 7,000 people had their release dates moved up by an average of 86 days. New Jersey’s declaration of a public health emergency gave some incarcerated individuals time credits, leading to the release of at least 2,000 people.
January 27 — The number of people in U.S. jails and prisons dropped dramatically in the first half of 2020, but jail populations have rebounded significantly and decreases in the number of people in prisons have levelled off. The number of people in state and federal prisons dropped 13%, from 1.3 million in mid-2020 to 1.25 million in September. The local jail population fell 24% from June 2019 to June 2020, but reversed course and increased 10% by September.
February 3 — Some big city jail systems’ populations have returned to pre-pandemic levels after dropping in the first half of 2020. Jail populations in New York, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Broward County in Florida have bounced back to their pre-pandemic levels. Los Angeles, San Diego, Columbus, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, Seattle, Boston, Indianapolis, Oakland, Denver, and Austin saw jail population increases in the second half of 2020, but are still lower than their pre-pandemic levels.
February 9 — In a study of 25 counties, the average jail population decreased 24% from February to October 2020, according to a study by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance. The bulk of the decreases were early on in the pandemic, and jail populations trended back up over the summer months. There were racial disparities in declines in bookings, with more pronounced decreases for white individuals than for people of color.
March 11 — The number of people held in local jails fell from 734,500 in June of 2019 to 549,100 in June of 2020, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The population reached 519,500 in April 2020, the lowest level since 1996. The decrease was the result of a drop in admissions and expedited releases in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest month-to-month occurred from February to March of 2020, with continued decline until it began to grow again in May and June.
March 12 — Jail and prison populations dropped significantly during the spring of 2020, but jail reductions were the result of bottlenecks when COVID-19 upended normal processes rather than deliberate, lasting action, according to Len Engel of the Crime and Justice Institute.
June 7 — The number of people incarcerated in U.S. jails fell by about 25%, or 185,000 individuals, during the pandemic. By March of 2021, the jail population had added back more than 70,000 people, reaching nearly 650,000. Sheriffs and judges in some jurisdictions are working to make strategies that helped reduce their populations permanent.
May 29 — In prison systems around the country, many incarcerated individuals were unable to complete required programming so they could be released on parole because those programs had been reduced or suspended due to the pandemic. Governors in states including Kentucky, Oregon, New Jersey, and New York granted commutations or early release programs, but advocates for incarcerated people said those efforts fell short of the wide-spread responses they sought.
July 1 — A study sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found that a decrease in arrests during the COVID-19 pandemic did not lead to an increase in crime or negatively affect public safety.
November 11 — Prison systems in at least 10 states released fewer people in 2020 and early 2021 than they did in 2019 before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Decreases in overall prison population was more directly related to fewer people being admitted to prison than to people leaving, the organization found.
December 14 — The number of people in state or federal prisons nationwide fell 15% in 2020, from 1.4 million to 1.2 million, according to data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Factors contributing to the decline include releases during the pandemic and trial delays. Alaska was the only state to show an increase in prison population, and Nebraska was the only state that ended the year with a population that exceeded its prison system’s maximum capacity.