Panic over COVID-19 in the Virginia Department of Corrections has come to end—and as of last summer, so have early prisoner releases, reported the Associated Press (AP).
The state of Virginia eased all distancing and capacity protocols earlier in 2021, citing increased vaccination rates and declining hospitalizations and COVID positivity rates. In addition, the Virginia DOC said they were planning a phased-in approach, following federal guidelines, to allow visitors back into correctional facilities, the article said.
“The early release plan was an innovative way to ensure the safety and security of our incarcerated population, as well as the public,” said Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Strict eligibility guidelines that limited the number of prisoners eligible for early release “just wasn’t as far-reaching as we’d hoped,” said attorney Maisie Osteen.
“The scope was just far too narrow and really didn’t offer the relief we were hoping for and a lot of other advocates were hoping for,” added the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program attorney.
According to the AP, Virginia lawmakers paved the way for the DOC to consider early release for many of its nearly 24,000 prisoners during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 2,114 prisoners were released from state and county facilities under the COVID State of Emergency, but the authorization for the early release plan ended on July 1, 2021.
“Governor Northam will continue to work with our public safety and public health officials to monitor infection and vaccination rates in Virginia and consider mitigation measures as necessary,” said Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s spokesperson.
“About 70 percent of the inmate population has now been vaccinated against COVID-19, and there are no current cases among the population,” said Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke.