Keir Bradford-Grey on Gov. Wolf’s Reprieve Order

Governor Wolf today ordered the PA Department of Corrections officials to develop a process to release vulnerable and non-violent inmates at or nearing their release dates. 

PHILADELPHIA– “The Defender Association of Philadelphia applauds Governor Wolf for taking decisive action in a time of crisis to reduce the spread of COVID-19. At the rate the coronavirus is spreading in Pennsylvania’s prisons, we cannot afford to wait for the legislative process to play out before taking action.

“The Governor’s order for PA Department of Corrections to implement a Temporary Program to Reprieve Sentences of Incarceration program is a significant first step, but it will affect, at most, 4% of PA’s incarcerated population. Moreover, because detailed plans must be made for each person, many of whom will not have stable homes, it’s possible that less than 2% of the current population will actually be released. This, unfortunately, means that incarcerated people and prison staff will still be at high risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“The current order also includes many unnecessary exemptions that have little to do with public safety. For example, someone with a 10-year-old simple assault conviction from a fistfight on their record can’t be released, even if they are currently only in prison for retail theft.
“Releasing a larger number of non-vulnerable people who pose little risk to the community is the only way to protect the overwhelming majority of people who will remain incarcerated, as well as those working inside our state prisons.

“Though we feel this order needs to be expanded, Governor Wolf should be commended for displaying leadership and offering solutions to reduce the prison population, regardless of any potential political consequences.
“In the meantime, the Defender Association continues to advocate for the release of eligible incarcerated people in Philadelphia and are here to assist in developing similar plans for our Philadelphia clients.” 
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