This report presents findings of a survey of 74 paroling authorities representing 30 states and Washington, DC, to better understand the challenges they faced and addressed in coping with the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
The main challenges were reducing crowded prison populations to lower the risk of contagion among inmates and staff, as well as working remotely for communications and decisionmaking. Most of the 34 states that responded to the survey limited or stopped prison admissions; some also accelerated and expanded the criteria for releasing inmates. In most states, parole authorities made critical decisions that affected the length of time people spent in prison and the terms under which they were released. Parole authorities were also expected to partner with stakeholders in the criminal justice system to link incarcerated people and those released from prison with appropriate treatment, housing, and other critical health-related supports. Almost two-thirds of responding parole authorities described the difficulties they experienced due to lack of interpersonal interaction and the need to communicate exclusively by virtual means. The pandemic also reduced staff training opportunities, exacerbating staff turnover. Prison quarantines postponed many parole hearings, and restrictions on in-person contacts reduced input from victims, families, and others in parole hearings. In some states, restrictive “compassionate-release” requirements hindered parole authorities from releasing people vulnerable to serious infection. One of the most helpful practices was the opportunity to survey, interact with, and compare experiences with paroling authorities in other states. This was facilitated by various federal and national criminal justice agencies and organizations. Parole authorities identified several policy changes that align with evidence-based policies and practices for reducing prison populations, helping people at risk of recidivism, and increasing participation in the parole process. These are outlined in this report.