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AVID Program Calls for Action to Stop the Spread of COVID19 in WA Prisons/Jails

April 22, 2020

According to the CDC, older people and those with underlying medical conditions, including many people with disabilities, are at heightened risk of COVID-19 infection. This risk is compounded in the prisons due to crowded conditions and limited medical care. There have now been 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington’s state prisons, with more than a thousand incarcerated people in quarantine due to suspected exposure. While Governor Inslee has ordered the release [1] of hundreds of people, those releases are limited to people who have been convicted of nonviolent offenses who are already close to release. Many thousands remain in prison at high risk of exposure.  

Tomorrow, April 23, 2020,  at 9 am there will be oral argument before the Washington State Supreme Court in Colvin v. Inslee, the lawsuit brought by Columbia Legal Services, demanding an immediate reduction in the prison population due to the risk posed by COVID-19. You can watch the argument live at TVW.org.

You can find the amicus brief submitted by Disability Rights Washington in support of the litigation here [2].

For more information, you can find the full briefing on the case here [3].

April 14, 2020

Yesterday, Washington State’s Governor announced that almost one thousand people will be released from Washington prisons. Decreasing the overall prison population is one of the only interventions that has been recognized by public health experts as effective in stemming COVID-19’s spread in correctional settings. 

While DRW recognizes this first step towards reducing the prison population, far too many incarcerated people, including aging inmates and those with disabilities, remain at heightened risk of COVID-19. DRW urges the Governor to continue releasing people who are at risk of COVID-19, focusing on those most vulnerable to infection due to age and disability. These release decisions should be holistic, and not solely based on an individual’s prior offenses.

For more information, visit: 

https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-announces-strategies-reducing-number-individuals-incarcerated-address-covid-19-doc [4]

https://www.doc.wa.gov/news/2020/04132020p.htm [5]

March 30, 2020

On March 30, DRW’s AVID Program and the ACLU of Washington sent a letter to Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice, Debra L. Stephens [6], informing the Court that a proposed Executive Order [7] was sent to Governor Inslee and urging the Court to respond to the COVID-19 public health crisis by taking action related to the operation of criminal courtrooms and pretrial release of criminal defendants.

March 27, 2020

On March 27, DRW’s AVID Program and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington sent a letter to Governor Inslee [8] requesting that he consider issuing an enclosed draft executive order [7] that addresses the rising risks of COVID-19 in our correctional facilities. The letter suggested that there are three steps that need to be taken right away to forcefully limit the spread of COVID-19 among some of our most vulnerable communities. These steps include: the release of vulnerable people in state correctional facilities, the reduction of the overall population in state correctional facilities, and the reduction of vulnerable and overall populations in local correctional facilities.

Week of March 16, 2020

During the week of March 16, DRW’s AVID Program worked with other legal services organizations, community partners, and family members of incarcerated people to issue letters calling on the Washington State Department of Corrections [9], Governor Inslee [10], and local jails (Spokane County Jail [11] & King County Jail [12]) to take urgent and bold action to prevent the imminent spread of COVID-19 in our prisons and jails.

“Prisons and jails are particularly ill-suited to address the current pandemic. People live in close contact with one another, social distancing is difficult, hygiene services and essential medical equipment is in short supply, and medical treatment is not easily accessible. Once COVID-19 breaks out, it will likely spread quickly through our prisons and jails” (Letter to DOC Secretary Sinclair).

people at spokane county jail in communal area
Spokane County Jail communal room.

On March 17, the AVID Program also joined the WACDL/WDA COVID-19 Taskforce to issue a letter to the Washington State Supreme Court [13], calling for full closure of the courts in light of the risks posed to all participants in the court system, including defendants, attorneys, and court personnel. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys joined with that Taskforce and submitted an Agreed Proposed Order to the Court [14], which was subsequently amended and issued by the Court.

With thousands of aging and medically compromised people living in our prisons and jails, and moving through our criminal justice system, this is an urgent issue and DRW’s AVID Program has prioritized advocacy around this issue for the near future.

We will attempt to update our website as we receive additional information about the correctional response to COVID-19. Updates from DOC can be found here [15]. Updates from the Office of the Corrections Ombuds can be found here [16].


Press Coverage

April 3, 2020

April 1, 2020

March 18, 2020

March 17, 2020

March 16, 2020