Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Commutations Can Help Slow Coronavirus Spread in Prisons—But Only if Trump and Governors Use Them
Press Release

RELEASE: Commutations Can Help Slow Coronavirus Spread in Prisons—But Only if Trump and Governors Use Them

Washington, D.C. — The coronavirus is spreading rapidly in American prisons and jails, leaving policymakers scrambling to protect incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and the surrounding communities. A new column published today by the Center for American Progress calls for an immediate expansion in the use of commutations—a ready-made tool to reduce prison populations and protect those vulnerable to COVID-19.

The column finds that physical distancing in corrections facilities is nearly impossible, and overcrowding and inadequate health facilities exacerbate the situation for incarcerated populations that are already at heightened risk due to age and a high prevalence of chronic illness. Some governors, including those in Washington state, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, have begun to use commutations, but all states need to go further.

At the federal level, President Donald Trump has yet to issue a single commutation since the coronavirus took hold in the United States, even though he announced in February the formation of a new White House task force on clemency.

“Prisons are hotspots for COVID-19, and President Trump and governors across this country must use every tool available to them to save lives,” said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at CAP and co-author of the column. “The authority to commute sentences is a ready-made tool to reduce populations and protect the immensely vulnerable individuals in our nation’s prisons and jails, and the officers and staff who work in those facilities.”

Read the column: “Trump and Governors Should Use Commutations To Combat the Spread of Coronavirus” by Ed Chung and Lea Hunter

Read the related fact sheet: “Clemency 101: How Sentences Can Be Pardoned or Commuted” by Kenny Lo, Betsy Pearl, and Akua Amaning

Related resources:

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at