Pennsylvania moves ahead with plan to free some inmates

The Associated Press
FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2017 file photo, a guard stands watch at the State Correctional Institution in Chester, Pa. As officials consider releasing some inmates to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania prisons, county prosecutors are telling lawmakers that passing legislation to address that would avoid leaving those decisions to the governor alone. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf is issuing an executive order on Friday to authorize the early release of up to 1,800 inmates from Pennsylvania state prisons in an effort to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus.

The plan is similar to what other states and some Pennsylvania counties have undertaken, and it comes after talks broke down with Republicans who hold a majority in the state Legislature.

The releases, to halfway houses or home confinement, could start as early as Tuesday, according to the governor’s office.

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The plan allows the release of inmates serving time for nonviolent offenses who are within nine months of scheduled release, or within 12 months for those considered at heightened risk from the coronavirus.

Pennsylvania’s 21 state prisons hold about 45,000 inmates. The Wolf administration said approximately 1,500 to 1,800 inmates are eligible, although some may not be released because of challenges involving health care or behavioral health treatment, as well as housing availability and food security.

Wolf’s order said the Department of Corrections will discuss each eligible inmate with the courts, the state attorney general’s office and county district attorney’s offices.