Although the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals granted a motion to dismiss in a petition filed by ACLU-WV to free 39 incarcerated individuals, the Court in its ruling also stated that Petitioners are permitted to file the action in circuit court.
In the meantime, many of the individuals named in our petition have been released, thankfully allowing them to be in an environment where they will be at less of a risk of contracting the deadly COVID-19 virus.
ACLU-WV, along with co-counsel Lora Greer Walker of the Habeas Corpus Division of Public Defender Services, is currently considering all options moving forward, including proceeding with the action in circuit court.
We had hoped the Court would order all parties to get together and work collectively on the petition to accomplish two things: a necessary reduction in the facilities’ populations and removal of deserving individuals from a high-risk environment.
Jails and prisons are no place to be in a viral pandemic. These crowded, poorly ventilated, and often unsanitary facilities are breeding grounds for disease, making incarcerated people and corrections workers vulnerable to infection. Prison walls will not contain a virus as contagious as COVID-19. This is a public health crisis waiting to happen.
Across the country, we’re seeing jails and prisons become hotspots for infection. In recent days, officials in Arkansas have revealed that more than 850 people have been infected with COVID-19 at Cummins prison. In Ohio more than 1900 people at Marion Correctional Institution have been infected with COVID-19. Now is not the time for delay. A study released yesterday by ACLU National and academic partners shows that, without swift action to release as many inmates as possible, an additional 100,000 people could die nationwide from the virus.
We must act quickly to ensure we don’t have a catastrophe on our hands.