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Federal judge sides with state on jail practices during pandemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge rejected a request for the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to release inmates from jails and prisons in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chambers ruled Monday the state has a sufficient plan and policy for protecting facility populations from getting the virus.

The decision came as a response to judicial advocacy group Mountain State Justice, who argued on behalf of inmates that inmates’ health was at more risk in facilities. The organization asked if certain inmates could serve the rest of their sentences at home in isolation.

The petition was also part of a lawsuit filed in December 2018; inmates allege the state has failed to provide sufficient health care to people in facilities.

The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a comprehensive coronavirus response plan last month, which includes guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as information about providing additional hygiene and cleaning products, monitoring inmates’ health and suspending inmate medical copays.

“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,” said Secretary Jeff Sandy with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “The Justice Administration and Commissioner Jividen will continue to fight anything that places employees, the inmate and the public at risk.”

The Division of Corrections has also extended furloughs for eligible work-release inmates and released parolees who were temporarily jailed for technical violations.

The state will continue working with other parties, including prosecutors and law enforcement, on the ongoing response to the coronavirus.

No jail or prison inmates in West Virginia have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday.

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