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ACLU pushes for independent experts to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks in Virginia prisons amid VDOC complaints

Barbed wire lining a prison gate
Barbed wire lining a prison gate(WVIR)
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 7:56 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As COVID-19 surges in prisons across Virginia, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union are pushing the Virginia Department of Corrections to hire outside experts to evaluate overall response.

Lawyers with ACLU have been hearing concerns raised by inmates, especially at Deerfield Correctional Center. They hope adding independent experts could provide a better look into prison conditions and help the DOC contain the spread of the virus.

“We, at this point, know that despite potentially best efforts on behalf of the department, what is going on is not working,” Virginia ACLU Legal Director Eden Heilman said.

The ACLU called for the installment of an independent monitor when it sent the DOC a notice of substantial non-compliance earlier this week. In the notice, the ACLU says the state is falling short on an agreement signed in May, seeking better care for inmates amid the pandemic.

Now, the ACLU wants an expert to have full access to VDOC facilities and documents. They’ll then evaluate safety measures and best practices.

This would allow the outside expert to monitor ongoing outbreaks and suggest targeted actions to improve infection control in both individual prisons and across the system as a whole.

“Either the current infection control measures aren’t working, or they’re not actually being implemented as the Department of Corrections says they are,” Heilman said. “That to us really indicates a need for some sort of outside expertise.”

The Virginia Department of Corrections is expected to respond to the notice of substantial non-compliance on Monday. In order to move forward, both parties will pick a date to talk this through.

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