Washington state to release 950 inmates from DOC
Last updated 4/16/2020 at 6:58pm
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee and Department of Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair have announced plans to release up to 950 state inmates from facilities who are part of population vulnerable to COVID-19, including nonviolent individuals due to be released within the coming weeks and months.
The move comes after a state Supreme Court ruling April 10 instructing the Department “to take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety” of incarcerated individuals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and submit a report to the Court on “all steps that have been taken and will be taken.”
“This will help allow for increased physical distancing throughout the Department of Corrections' system, reducing the population by up to 950 people to continue to reduce the risks to incarcerated individuals while balancing public safety concerns,” Inslee said in an April 13 news release.
In March, several incarcerated individuals filed lawsuits against the DOC, which included requests for the release of almost 12,000 of the individuals currently incarcerated in the state prison system. The suits led to the state Supreme Court’s decision late last Friday.
Corrections is planning for the limited transfer of incarcerated individuals back to their counties of conviction, a process that could take several weeks.
The plan will focus on individuals incarcerated for nonviolent and drug- or alcohol-related offenses, as well as people held on lower-level supervision violations who meet criteria established through legal advisement and statutory reviews. Some incarcerated individuals will be released through commutation, others will be released into a modified graduated reentry program.
The Department of Corrections has had a total of eight incarcerated individuals test positive for COVID-19. Of the eight, one is suspected to have contracted COVID-19 while in a community medical hospital and the other seven tested positive while housed in the same housing at the Minimum Security Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
Not everyone was pleased with the state’s decision. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and the lead Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee said the move was “the most extreme option” available to Inslee to address the Supreme Courts order, and increases society’s risk for the possible increase in crime but also increasing the spread of COVID-19.
“It is also illogical,” Padden added. “The safest place to ensure offenders do not contract COVID-19 is within the confines of DOC correctional facilities. There, DOC maintains a well-stocked inventory of CDC-recommended personal protection equipment, conducts rigorous screening procedures for offenders and staff, and has implemented social distancing protocols with strict adherence from staff and the offender population.”
The move also places more people on the street without housing, a job or access to health care at a time when law-abiding citizens are experiencing difficulty meeting those needs themselves. It also puts a group of individuals on the street who may be the least likely to follow the stat’s stay-at-home orders, Padden added.
“Governor Inslee and Secretary Sinclair should have considered a host of more reasonable alternatives, such as housing inmates at Maple Lane in Chehalis, expanded work release placements through new contract procurement, or the use of secure portables on facility recreation grounds,” Padden said. “This action is unacceptable. The governor should change course before it’s too late.”