Virginia Department of Corrections clears 230 prisoners for early release

Virginia Department of Corrections clears 230 prisoners for early release
Inmates convicted of robbery, felony assault, abduction, murder and sex offenses would be considered last. (Source: Julia Rendleman/ For the Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Department of Corrections has cleared 230 inmates for early release in the two weeks since the General Assembly approved an emergency proposal by Gov. Ralph Northam aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons.

Of those, 130 have been released from custody as of Thursday, according to Northam’s administration.

Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said he’s satisfied with both the pace of review and the department’s ongoing efforts to contain the virus, which at last report had infected 580 prisoners and killed three.

“We’re managing it as best we can,” he said.

Lawmakers approved the early release program on April 22 when they met to consider legislative amendments put forward by Northam. It passed largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

The program gives the DOC the power to release inmates who have a year or less to serve and a record of good behavior, a category into which about 2,000 of the state’s roughly 30,000 prisoners fall, according to Northam’s administration.

It excludes anyone convicted of a Class 1 felony or a violent sex offense. Guidelines put out by prison officials say they’re considering inmates’ medical conditions when making decisions and prioritizing people convicted of non-violent offenses, felony weapons offenses, involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter.

They said inmates convicted of robbery, felony assault, abduction, murder and sex offenses would be considered last.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.