New Jersey will be releasing more inmates in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state’s correctional facilities.

The state’s county jails last month released as many as 800 low-level offenders as a condition of their probation. On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he was signing an executive order that would allow the Department of Corrections to also release inmates from state prisons.

The prisons tend to hold more serious offenders and felons than the jails but inmates serving time for serious crimes such as homicide or sexual assault will not be eligible.

The Murphy administration said the move was to protect both inmates as well as prison employees.

Inmates that will be considered for released will be of an age or health status that puts them more at risk. COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, tends to be more lethal among older adults and people with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Other criteria for release: If the inmate has been eligible for parole within the past year or whose sentences would expire in the next three months.

Released inmates would be subject to parole supervision and the release would be temporary, Murphy said.

A Department of Corrections board would determine eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Corrections officials had not determined how many inmates would ultimately be available.

The development comes after an inmate at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton died with COVID-19.

The state prisons have had 20 inmates test positive and 129 affected by the virus. Another 400 inmates and 1,000 correctional employees are under quarantine orders.

Last month, prisons ended visitations for prisoners and required workers with third-party companies to wear masks or protective equipment when entering facilities.

As New Jersey enters the middle of the second month of the public health emergency, 54,588 residents have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,932 residents have died.

About 7,570 people remained hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday morning, with more than 1,600 in critical care and on ventilator support.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app