Are Inmates Eligible for Early Release Due to COVID-19? Rahul Balaram, Santa Rosa Defense Attorney, Explains

Coronavirus has had a lasting impact on the lives of everyone, including those involved with the criminal justice system. In response to the pandemic, many courts and prisons across the country are changing their policies regarding the handling of existing inmates. Here, criminal defense attorney Rahul Balaram discusses how California is granting early release to some of its inmates as a way to reduce crowds and prevent the spread of the coronavirus throughout the prison system.

On an average day, California jails hold around 50,000 people while the state prisons hold approximately 116,000. As the pandemic has taken hold across the country, medical experts have identified that areas of the highest risk for infection stem from institutional settings. After repeated outbreaks were observed in nursing homes, experts are looking to find alternative solutions for the large, dense populations held in jails and prisons.

In one instance, there was a coronavirus outbreak at the prison at Terminal Island. Seven hundred inmates tested positive for the virus, and eight died. At another prison, in Lompoc, over nine hundred inmates tested positive, and at a third prison, in Chino, 443 inmates tested positive, and five died.

While many prisons across the state have implemented measures such as suspended intake, suspended visitation, and reduced time in group areas, these measures do not constitute adequate social distancing. Some prisons have tried to request temporary access to empty federal buildings to spread out inmates; however, it still has not been enough to slow the virus.

One strategy to combat this crowding is to grant inmates set to be released in the next 60 days an early release. In March alone, the state of California granted early release to 3,500 “non-violent” inmates. To qualify for this exception, inmates must not be serving time for violent crimes, a sex offense, or any type of domestic violence.

Additionally, as part of this program, officials are looking to identify which inmates will have homes and a support network upon their release. While releasing inmates helps reduce the number of individuals and crowds within the prison network, officials also understand that releasing inmates to the public who have nowhere to go may worsen the pandemic. Individuals with no homes to return to may become homeless or go to shelters, where they may pass the virus onto others unknowingly. Inmates released into the care of family or friends can self-quarantine and help prevent further spread of the virus.

About Rahul Balaram

Rahul Balaram is an experienced and dedicated attorney that has represented hundreds of clients. Mr. Balaram takes pride in ensuring his clients are aware of every aspect of their case and that their interests are presented with dignity, compassion, and competence.

Rahul opened the Balaram Law Office in Santa Rosa and is widely known for his excellent trial skills, his unrelenting work on behalf of his clients, and the outstanding results that his clients receive.