As the COVID-19 outbreak continues in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced today steps to protect the health of incarcerated individuals by focusing on the early release of vulnerable populations, including nonviolent individuals who are due to be released within the coming weeks and months.
“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.
“Today, the Washington Department of Corrections takes its next steps in mitigating risk to the incarcerated population sentenced to our custody,” Sec. Stephen Sinclair said. “Since the beginning of COVID-19 in our state, the department has worked aggressively to develop and implement protocols and directives to combat the pandemic. The next necessary steps will strategically provide for more physical distancing within the state’s correctional facilities.”
The Department of Corrections is developing and implementing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that mitigate risk to its incarcerated population, including those who are most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.
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. On Friday, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order directing the governor and DOC to “immediately exercise their authority to take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety" of inmates in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Based on the court order, DOC will immediately begin to implement the strategies identified in the state's response to the court filed today. 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.
Some incarcerated individuals will be released through commutation, others will be released into a modified graduated reentry program