response by W.Va. corrections upheld by court
W.Va. – A federal judge ruled Monday that West Virginia’s
correctional system has a reasonable, well-founded and appropriate plan to deal
with the unprecedented COVID-19 threat.
U.S. District Court Robert C. Chambers
rejected allegations from Mountain State Justice that the W.Va. Division of
Corrections and Rehabilitation was “deliberately indifferent” to the risks
posed by the pandemic. He denied Mountain State Justice’s request that DCR be
ordered to release inmates from its prisons and jails.
Instead, Chambers found that DCR has recognized
the threat from COVID-19 and responded with all available resources – including
through appropriate policies and measured mechanisms for reducing facility
populations. With a detailed written ruling expected in the coming days, the
judge said DCR was taking reasonable steps to mitigate the risks from COVID-19 and
provide for the health and safety of staff and inmates at its facilities to the
DCR responded to plaintiffs’ allegations
that it was “deliberately indifferent” to the COVID-19 pandemic’s risks by
presenting evidence of its comprehensive COVID-19 response plan. This response embraces
the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DCR also demonstrated it is taking steps to protect inmate health by providing
additional hygiene and cleaning products, increasing monitoring of inmate
health, enhancing health screenings for new inmates and suspending inmate medical
copays for sick call visits, among other measures.
To address potential overcrowding issues
in its facilities, DCR has also extended furloughs for already-eligible
work-release inmates and released parolees who were temporarily jailed for
technical violations if they have approved home plans. It continues to examine other
furlough options that won’t compromise public safety. The Supreme Court, in
consultation with WVDCR, has also asked that county prosecutors identify
pretrial defendants suitable for personal recognizance or reduced bonds.
Military Affairs and Public Safety
Secretary Jeff Sandy, whose Cabinet department includes DCR, praised
Commissioner Betsy Jividen and her team and thanked Gov. Jim Justice for his
continuing leadership in the campaign against COVID-19.
“I am pleased with the judge’s decision,
because he showed that corrections leadership and the Parole Board act
professionally and use common sense concerning who we release from our
facilities,” Sandy said. “The Justice Administration and Commissioner Jividen
will continue to fight anything that places employees, the inmate and the
public at risk.”
Public safety leaders similarly welcomed
the hearing’s outcome.
"Sheriffs from across the state have
worked with our corrections and jail system as well as other emergency
professionals to protect citizens as best they can, and we give credit to the
DCR staff for operating under very tough conditions,” said Delegate Rodney
Miller, D-Boone, a former county sheriff and the executive director of the
W.Va. Sheriffs’ Association.
DCR will continue to work with others in
the criminal justice system – prosecutors and defense lawyers, the judiciary,
law enforcement, and advocates for crime victims and others – to shape the
ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The West Virginia Coalition Against
Domestic Violence said that while it did not know the specifics of the pending
lawsuit against DCR, it does support adequate healthcare for all inmates and is
“particularly familiar with struggles to provide safe measures to people living
in small spaces as we work to maintain safe space for victims of domestic
violence, sexual assault and human trafficking seeking shelter in the midst of
“Victims of domestic violence, human
trafficking and sexual assault have the right to be safe from their abusers,”
said WVCADV Team Coordinator Joyce Yedlosky. She added, “If
immediate healthcare options are not available during this pandemic, and
release is being considered, such release should include: case-by-case analysis
of inmate/victim safety; victim notice and input; and inmate monitoring to
maintain safe distancing from victims.”