Hundreds of prisoners to be released statewide
The state has begun releasing hundreds of prisoners early to reduce population counts.
Pressured to protect inmates from the new coronavirus, it is to open space to better follow guidelines on social distancing inside the prisons.
As of April 18, the state Department of Corrections lists 1,227 inmates eligible for release.
Gov. Jay Inslee last week ordered qualifying prisoners to be released no later than April 22, if not as soon as possible.
In the order, he automatically reduced prison sentences for about 400 prisoners who “do not have a conviction for a violent offense, serious violent offense, or sex offense” by commuting sentences. They were already up for release between now and June 29. Some will be fast-tracked into re-entry programs.
Most of the commuted on Corrections’ list had burglaries, drug offenses (possession or manufacturing), vehicle possession violations (different than theft) or illegal firearm possession crimes, the Tribune saw.
Corrections is obligated to still give a 48-hour notification to victims and witnesses about a prisoner’s release.
Every inmate leaving prison is screened for COVID-19 before being released into the public, state Department of Corrections Steve Sinclair said previously.
In addition, others eligible to be freed will only be in minimum-level custody and meet specific criteria “established through careful legal advisement and statutory reviews,” Corrections said.
Sinclair is using his power to grant furlough to some prisoners administratively. Who gets one would be done using careful evaluation, said Jeremy Barclay, a liaison in the department’s emergency operations center.
Not all the releases would come out of Monroe. The prison system has upward of 17,000 incarcerated individuals in the state, and there are 12 prisons statewide. Some only house minimum-level inmates. At Monroe, the only facility in Snohomish County, two of the five units house minimum-level inmates.
Monroe has 11 inmates confirmed positive for the new coronavirus as of April 17, up from 7 cases on April 12.
Commuted sentences often have stipulations “conditioned on being a law-abiding citizen,” according to the legal service Nolo.com.
Some say the state’s release plan is not enough, while others say it is going too far.
Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney criticized the plan as “irresponsible” on social media, writing that it will cause crime to go up.
“I am very confident in the leadership within the Department of Corrections has and will continue to take steps to mitigate the risk of COVID 19 within the prisons. Simply choosing to release approximately 1,000 prison inmates into our community in Snohomish County and around the State of Washington is irresponsible by the Governor,” Fortney wrote.
The nonprofit law firm Columbia Legal Services, which petitioned the state Supreme Court to order Corrections to show how it is following health guidelines for prisoner safety, said the state could release more prisoners than it is allowing.
The firm’s argument is that everyone in custody involuntarily risks infection, and to help avoid it, the prison population needs to be drastically reduced.
Columbia is petitioning for more than what’s happened: It asked the court to order releasing certain prisoners who are medically vulnerable or over 50 years old, and within 18 months of the end of their terms. The court is still reviewing these requests.
The state prison system is not transferring inmates much. Inmates are being transferred among prisons “on a very limited basis” for health or overcrowding reasons, Barclay said.
However, not at Monroe right now. On April 6, Corrections suspended transfers in or out of Monroe except when a prisoner has specific health care needs that can’t be met already in the prison, the state said and Barclay affirmed. The policy arrived one day after the first COVID-19 case in Monroe April 5, and the state told the court it lasts to April 27.
Corrections won’t transfer inmates out of Monroe to free up more space inside for more social distancing, Barclay said.
New intake prisoners are quarantined for 14 days upon arrival, the state told the court.
Prison changes suggested, including early release for some
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