Coalition asks Justice to sign executive order reducing jail populations amid COVID-19 outbreak

West Virginia

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – A coalition recently called on West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to, “to grant expedited commutations, release certain individuals and implement alternatives” in order to reduce the population in state jails.

The coalition, comprised of public health experts, homelessness advocates, criminal justice leaders and other concerned individuals, say doing so will minimize the harm inflicted on inmates and correctional staff in West Virginia – and, by extension, the harm inflicted on our communities.

“An outbreak of the virus 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 coalition states in a press release sent to Channel 13. “This could significantly prolong the time needed to bring the virus under control, overwhelm our medical capacity, and prove catastrophic for those who work in or are incarcerated in state correctional facilities, many of whom have not be tried or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.”

Specifically, the coalition urges the governor to:

  • Instruct the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to identify all inmates in state correctional facilities who currently have 365 or fewer days left to serve. These inmates should be granted parole in the absence of evidence that they would pose an immediate and direct threat to public safety, the coalition says.
  • Instruct all relevant agencies 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 the West Virginia Supreme Court instruct 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.

“Like all other government agencies, the criminal justice system needs guidance from our Governor on how best to reduce the threat posed to West Virginia by the global pandemic,” the coalition states.

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