Board considering release of non-violent inmates from Georgia state prisons due to coronavirus outbreak

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is considering the release of some inmates at state prisons to assist the Georgia Department of Corrections during the coronavirus outbreak, while local sheriff’s offices have no plans to release inmates.

According to a news release, the state board has started reviewing specific cases for clemency release to allow the GDC more flexibility to manage the inmate population. The board is considering individuals currently serving non-violent offenses who are within 180 days of completing their prison sentence for release.

“The Board will be exercising its constitutional authority to affect releases with a goal of providing the Department of Corrections more flexibility in handling the impact of the COVID-19 virus within Georgia’s correctional system,” parole board chairman Terry Barnard said in the release.

The majority of those individuals will be released to community supervision.

As of Tuesday, there were 23 positive cases involving GDC staff and inmates, with 12 cases being staff and 11 inmates, including one death. Lee State Prison in Lee County has the most cases with 5 staff members and 7 inmates.

During a press conference Tuesday, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree said there are currently more than 950 inmates at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center, with each new arrival being screened and daily screenings being conducted. Roundtree said authorities will need to coordinate with the court system in terms of releasing inmates with non-violent offenses, but no decision has been made.

Roundtree said those jailed are still going through the same bond process and are not being denied access to legal counsel.

In Columbia County, Maj. Steve Morris said there are no plans to release non-violent offenders, but said they separate inmates at the Columbia County Detention Center from new arrivals. All new arrivals are housed in the same area as to not potentially infect the entire facility.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is also screening new arrivals to the jail, which currently has a total of 360 cells, including 16 maximum cells for males and eight for females. As of Wednesday, there were 230 people confinedat the detention center, according to jail records.

Aiken County Capt. Nick Gallam said they only release inmates from the Aiken County Detention Center once they receive a discharge from a magistrate or circuit court judge. All new arrivals are screened before entering the facility.

There are currently less than 400 inmates at the 430-bed Aiken facility, according to jail records.

Burke County Maj. Chester Huffman said they have been able to keep the population at the Burke County Detention Center under 100, so they are simply adding pre-intake screening measures. The facility has 138 beds