CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – A coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) is calling on Governor Jim Justice to take immediate action to reduce the number of people in West Virginia’s jails and prisons during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a release from ACLU-WV.
The release stated that with the daily spread of COVID-19 in West Virginia, public and private entities are taking significant steps to prevent a flood of cases that would overwhelm the state’s health care system. ACLU-WV officials said that in this context, public health experts, criminal justice leaders and other concerned individuals are calling on Governor Justice to use his executive authority to minimize the harm inflicted on inmates and correction staff in the state. The release stated that by extension, this would also minimize the harm that is inflicted on the community.
ACLU-WV said in the release that “an outbreak of COVID-19 in West Virginia’s overcrowded jails, prisons and juvenile detention facilities risks the rapid transmission of the virus and its eventual spread beyond those confines.” The release stated this could significantly prolong the time needed to bring the virus under control in the state, overwhelm the state’s medical capacity and prove catastrophic for those individuals who work in or are incarcerated in state correctional facilities.
To minimize these threat of those outcomes, the coalition is calling on Governor Justice to use his constitutional powers to grant expedited communications, release certain individuals and implement alternatives to arrest and incarceration to reduce the overall population in state custodial facilities in a manner consistent with public safety, according to the release.
The release stated that specifically, the coalition is urging the governor to do the following:
- Instruct the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to identify all inmates in state correctional facilities who currently have 365 or fewer days of incarceration left to serve for the purpose of granting presumptive parole of these individuals, in the absence of evidence that they would pose an immediate and direct threat to public safety.
- Relieve the dangerous threat posed by overcrowded correctional facilities by instructing all relevant agencies to creatively work together to identify or expand recovery homes and transitional housing where released inmates who are homeless or struggling with addiction can go during this pandemic.
- Instruct state and local law enforcement agencies to use their discretion to respond to misdemeanor legal violations through warnings, summonses, and citations.
- Request that the West Virginia Supreme Court issue instructions to magistrates to reduce the number of people held pretrial in regional jails by setting personal recognizance bonds for non-felony offenses and establishing expedited judicial review and release procedures so that no one is incarcerated longer than 72 hours.
- End the process of remitting to prison individuals who have committed technical parole violations in the absence of further criminal acts.
Last week, ACLU-WVU wrote a letter to Governor Justice urging him to halt juvenile incarceration in the state due to the coronavirus pandemic.