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Jails Across State Release Prisoners Under Order of Governor 

Governor Ralph Northam has issued an order to release criminal offenders from local and regional jails in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are facing an unprecedented public health emergency, which has required us to work collaboratively to develop unique solutions,” said Governor Northam. “Criminal justice stakeholders across the Commonwealth are using the tools available to them to decrease our jail population and address this crisis responsibly, humanely, and deliberatively. ”

Governor Northam has recommended the following:

– Allowing sentence modifications that can reduce populations within the jails.

– Diverting offenders from being admitted into jails prior to trial, including the use of summonses by law enforcement in lieu of arrest.

– Utilizing alternative solutions to incarceration such as home electronic monitoring.

– Considering other ways to decrease the number of “low-risk” offenders being held without bail in jails.

Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Donald Lemons, on March 25 requesting his assistance in encouraging all magistrates and other judicial officers determining bail to consider the health and safety of those that appear before them and the residents and employees in local and regional jails.

Since late February, the number of new commitments to local and regional jails has decreased from approximately 10,000 during a two-week period to just over 4,000. On April 7, the jail population in the Commonwealth was 24,000, which is a 17 percent decrease from March 1. Virginia has also seen a 67 percent decline in the number of new commitments for misdemeanors across the Commonwealth.

In addition to working with local partners to address local and regional jails, Governor Northam proposed a budget amendment allowing the Director of the Department of Corrections to release individuals with less than a year left to serve in their sentences for the duration of the state of emergency.

The legislature is set to reconvene on April 22 to consider the Governor’s amendments to legislation, which includes the budget. If the amendment is adopted, it will be effective immediately.

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