Delaware, like the rest of the country and the world, has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic since March of 2020. The worst outbreaks have occurred in facilities where people live and/or work in tight communal settings – long-term care facilities, prisons, and meat processing plants. There is no real way to prevent an outbreak and the spread of a highly contagious disease inside a prison where inmates share cells, communal recreation and dining spaces, and in some instances reside in large bunk rooms. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the operations of the prisons as they struggle with staff shortages due to illness and quarantines, and curtail activities to reduce opportunities for community spread within the prison.
This bill seeks to address both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as any future public health emergency that impacts prison operations and conditions by creating a “public health emergency credit” that would automatically be awarded when a public health emergency is declared. Credits would be awarded at the rate of 6 months for every month served during the public health emergency up to a maximum reduction in sentence of 1 year. This has the practical effect of moving forward release dates for inmates whose release would come within the next year regardless of the emergency. This will reduce the prison population in an orderly and fair manner, relieving pressure on staff and creating better conditions for those inmates who remain incarcerated to socially distance and control the spread of infectious disease. By applying additional credit towards sentence completion, this legislation also recognizes that the conditions of confinement during a public health emergency like the current one can be considered significantly more punishing – since visitation, communications, programming, and recreation are all significantly negatively impacted by the emergency conditions and modifications to operations.