Proposed bill could reduce inmates’ sentences under public health emergencies


DELAWARE – A bill that could reduce prison time under special circumstances for inmates in Delaware is set to be reviewed by legislators next week. “We should be a model state to the rest of our country when it comes to corrections, and we can get there,” said Representative Melissa Minor-Brown.

 Rep. Minor-Brown says getting there could start with House Bill 37. The bill would create a public health emergency credit. For every month served during a declared public health emergency, prisoners would get six months taken off their sentence. “We’re looking at the numbers get worse and worse, especially in congregate settings like prisons. The chances of people being exposed are much higher,” Executive Director of the ACLU of Delaware Mike Brickner.

Brickner says the bill was created in response to COVID-19. But could have a lasting impact on how Delaware deals with future public health emergencies. “There may be other pandemics or other emergencies that are waiting for us in the future that we just don’t know about and can’t prepare for,” said Brickner.

 Rep. Minor-Brown tells 47ABC that she hopes this bill will not only prepare Delaware for any future crises. But she also hopes it’ll help change the public’s attitude toward people who end up behind bars and strengthen the support system prisoners have when they get out. “It’s so easy to think that because someone is in jail they’re a bad person. But we don’t take a holistic approach as to why that person is in prison in the first place,” said Rep. Minor-Brown.

Rep. Minor-Brown says she and other lawmakers on the bill have already started working with organizations that work with released prisoners as they transition back into society. “We’re reaching out to our re-entry organizations, which we have a ton up and down the state. We’re discussing how we can ensure the needed supports are right there in the community,” said Rep. Minor Brown.

Of course, other lawmakers say there are questions that need to be answered before they move forward with the bill. Representative Ruth Briggs King is on the Corrections Committee for Delaware. In a phone call Friday, Rep. Briggs King said she wants to know more about how this bill would work. For example, she says she’s concerned about how early releases could impact victims. Rep. Briggs King also raised questions about good time earned by inmates not during a public health emergency, and how that would line up with the good time earned under this bill.

The Delaware Department of Corrections says if the bill is passed, it could create an adjustment period for the state’s correctional system. In a statement, the Del. DOC said in part “Significant sudden adjustments to court-ordered release dates for large numbers of inmates may have an impact on ongoing and court-ordered treatment and programming may impact reentry planning, which intensifies during inmates’ final six months of incarceration. It would likely also drive the need for additional Probation and Parole resources, as most inmates are ordered to a period of community supervision following their release.”

The Del. DOC also says they are currently reviewing records to determine about how many inmates who are not serving time under a Habitual Offender sentence. They are also looking at inmates who have current release dates through January 10th, 2022.

 The bill is scheduled to head to committee on Tuesday.
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