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COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021

The COVID-19 virus has swept through prisons nationwide, and North Carolina is no exception. Incarcerated people are infected by the COVID-19 virus at a rate of more than five times higher than the nation’s overall rate, according to research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2020. Furthermore, high rates of underlying health issues among incarcerated populations place many individuals in custody in high-risk categories that make them more susceptible to complications if they contract the virus. As of October 20, 2021, 10,687 inmates from North Carolina prisons have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 (U.S. Senate Bill 312) was introduced on February 12, 2021, by Senator J. Durbin and aims to provide for compassionate release based on COVID-19 vulnerability. The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 clarifies and expands the eligibility for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program introduced within the First Step Act of 2018. It ensures that eligibility for the program is subject to judicial review and explicitly names COVID-19 vulnerability as a basis for compassionate release. U.S. Senate Bill 312 states: “In the case of a defendant who is, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, considered to be at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including because the defendant is 60 years of age or older or has an underlying medical condition, such risk shall be considered to be an extraordinary and compelling reason”. It also aims to shorten the waiting period for judicial review from 30 days to 10 days.

Current status of U.S. Senate Bill 312 as of October 20, 2021: The bill was amended and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders on June 8, 2021.

Researched by Crystal Poole, NC-CURE Intern

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