Federal Judge denies motion for inmates early release during pandemic

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – A U.S. District Court Judge today rejected a bid to release some inmates early who argued the state isn’t doing enough to protect them from the pandemic. Mountain State Justice was in part asking for the release of enough inmates to ensure the health and safety of other inmates and correctional staff, but today the judge sided with the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Inmates inside the State’s prisons and jails argue they are not being adequately protected from COVID-19. They also say corrections officers, who come and go from the facilities are carrying the virus inside, So they sued in federal court. Judge Robert chambers ruled, without hearing from any inmate plaintiffs, that the state’s protection plan is adequate.

“Obviously we are disappointed with the court’s ruling. we do think if the court would have taken the opportunity to hear from the inmates he would have understood that the department is not implementing the COVID-19 response plan that was put forth,” says Jennifer S. Wagner, Esq with Mountain State Justice.

Wagner adds their evidence would have shown that jails and prisons aren’t providing adequate hygiene products or following social distancing standards.

“At meal time they are still sitting people shoulder to shoulder,’ Wagner adds.

The Kanawha County Commission went on the record opposing the inmate released last Friday. President Kent Carper said:

“Any plan that could potentially allow the release of convicted murderers or sex offenders, raises several legal issues and would prove to be very dangerous to the public…”

Kent Carper
Kanahwa County Commission

The plaintiff states that wasn’t their plan.

“That’s just simply not the case … we were simply asking and continue to ask DCR to implement a plan to release inmates who do not oppose a threat to society,” Wagner adds.

The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation stated they have taken a number of measures in their plan which include additional hygiene and cleaning products, increased monitoring of inmate health, and screenings when inmates first enter a jail

MSJ was looking for overcrowded jails and prisons to reduce their capacity to 75-percent, but the defense said that would mean the release of more than 2,700 inmates.

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