The ACLU joined Charlottesville attorney Elliott Harding in the lawsuit on behalf of 27 inmates in Virginia prisons. It alleged the commonwealth failed to release inmates who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and failed to keep people safe from the virus.
As part of the settlement reached on May 12, VDOC is now required to provide weekly reports to the ACLU about the number of offenders granted, denied, or considered for early release. Virginia has released 217 offenders from state prisons, and 35 from local jails as of May 27. About 29,000 people are incarcerated in VDOC facilities.
“It’s a very, very small percentage, and in reality what’s happening is a lot of these people are in these facilities and they’re on top of each other. They can’t socially distance. These are ticking time bombs where the virus is spreading and exploding,” ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman said.
The settlement also requires the department to update the number of people tested for COVID-19 at each prison. It’s tested more than 11,000 people, so far. More than 1,100 have the coronavirus, including the largest outbreak at Dillwyn Correctional Center in Buckingham County.
The ACLU says this is all about holding VDOC and the commonwealth accountable.
“We’ll definitely pursue other measures to ensure folks who are in custody of the Department of Corrections are safe, have access to protective equipment to keep themselves safe, and they have the potential for early release so they can keep those social distances that others are able to do who are not incarcerated,” Heilman said.
The ACLU updates the weekly reports on its website.
Press Release from ACLU of Virginia:
ACLU of Virginia Releases Data from VDOC on COVID-19 Prison Response As a Result of Lawsuit Settlement Agreement
The ACLU of Virginia launched a web page to release data from the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) on its early release program and COVID-19 testing. The ACLU of Virginia receives the data as a result of the settlement agreement in Whorley v. Northam, a lawsuit brought on behalf of 27 people who are incarcerated in Virginia prisons.
As part of the court-enforced settlement that was approved on May 12, VDOC is required to provide the ACLU of Virginia with weekly data reports, including the number of individuals in VDOC facilities who have been:
- Considered for early release;
- Granted early release;
- Denied early release; and
- Tested for COVID-19.
VDOC may be required to provide additional data, such as the number of conditional pardons granted, and requested documents like policies and directives, to demonstrate its compliance with the settlement agreement. The ACLU of Virginia will make this information publicly available on its website.
Weekly data reports and other documents from VDOC are available here: https://acluva.org/en/exclusive-vdoc-data-prison-release-and-covid-19-response-virginia
The web page will be updated each Wednesday by 12 p.m. with weekly data reports. Other documents and additional data will be added to the web page on a rolling basis as they are provided to the ACLU of Virginia by VDOC.
Case information: https://acluva.org/en/cases/whorley-et-al-v-northam-et-al