Giving Compass' Take:

• Emily Widra and Wendy Sawyer, at Prison Policy Initiative, call for justice for parole-eligible prisoners who've been denied release during coronavirus.

• How does denying parole-eligible prisoners their release pose serious health risks for prison populations? How can you support prisoners' health during the pandemic?

• Read about the unhealthy COVID-19 practices that take place within prisons.

With public health officials and criminal justice reform advocates urging prisons to reduce their populations, people who have already been approved for release should be the first to return to their communities and families. Instead, thousands of them are waiting behind bars — where social distancing is impossible — as prisons across the country become the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are the people who have already been granted parole by the state parole boards, but have not yet taken a class or program that the parole board requires them to complete before they can go home. They are near enough to the end of their sentences to be parole-eligible, and the parole board has determined that they are “safe” to return to the community, but they cannot be released until they complete a program, often a drug and alcohol treatment program.

If parole boards do not change this practice, for as long as the virus causes a “disruption in programming,” the number of people approved for parole but still in prison will continue to grow. The solution is obvious: Parole boards can waive the requirement or offer the therapeutic community programming after release. Especially given the current public health crisis, it makes sense for these programs — which, again, have been shown to be effective when offered after release — to be moved to the community setting when it is safe to do so. And in the meantime, people who have been approved for parole should be released as quickly as possible as part of the state’s efforts to protect incarcerated people and the larger community.

Read the full article about parole-eligible prisoners during COVID-19 by Emily Widra and Wendy Sawyer at Prison Policy Initiative.