As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, there are questions and concerns over another segment of the population who may be hit hard by the virus. Similar to nursing home or long-term care residents, those who are incarcerated in Washington's correctional facilities are not able to practice social distancing and are living literally on top of one another.
In an effort to try and reduce correctional facility populations, Washington's Department of Corrections (DOC) has released hundreds upon hundreds of prisoners early either by commutating their sentence or releasing them from their work-release programs. The Washington Supreme Court, however, denied a motion that would have allowed 12,000 prisoners to be released early. Included in that mass release would have been prisoners who were 50 or older, anyone with an underlying health condition, or who had 18 months or less left on their sentence.
We have discussed before how those 50 and older make up a disproportionate segment of prison populations. Thanks to longer prison sentences and the “three strikes and you're out” policy of the 1990s, 18% of Washington's inmates are 50 and older and often have other underlying health conditions.
COVID-19 and Prisons in Washington State
Some prisoner advocacy groups have called upon state governors to release state prisoners either through compassionate release or medical furlough. That was what Governor Inslee was trying to do here in Washington before a lawsuit challenging the release was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court. The argument was that many of those released could end up homeless, where they would be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Keeping them incarcerated, even without being able to practice social distancing, was argued to be “safer.”
But the grim reality is this: since the pandemic came to America, more prisoners across the country have died from the coronavirus than from legal executions over the last ten years. Executions have been postponed across the country because of coronavirus, but COVID-19 has turned other sentences into death sentences. And the number of deaths from coronavirus inside prisons is sharply rising.
According to the Marshall Project, the first coronavirus-related death of a prisoner was in late March in Georgia. The number of prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19 shot up 39% in one week. A few states where the prison coronavirus has exploded have been testing anyone—including prison staff and visitors—who have become sick, meaning that coronavirus may have been circulating for longer than we have known about it.
As of May 11, 2020, 341 prisoners across the country have died from COVID-19, and that number is most certainly going to rise.
Avoiding Washington Prisons with a Credible Defense
If you have been accused of a crime here in the greater Seattle area, it is going to be imperative to stay out of prison. Steve Karimi is a former King County prosecutor who now defends those accused of crimes. If you would like to see how Karimi Law Office can help you, call them at 206-621-8777 or fill out an online contact form today. Consultations are free and confidential.