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Dept. of Corrections confirms 1st COVID-19 death of a Virginia inmate

(WSAZ)
Published: Apr. 14, 2020 at 3:13 PM EDT
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Virginia has confirmed the first death of an inmate due to COVID-19 in the commonwealth.

According to the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC), an offender who had been housed at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland died Tuesday morning at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.

The 49-year-old woman had been admitted to VCU on April 4 and tested positive for the coronavirus. She was hospitalized from April 4 until her death ten days later.

Corrections officials say she had underlying health conditions, including asthma and Hepatitis-C.

She was serving a 9-year prison sentence for manufacturing methamphetamine, delivery of drugs to prison and larceny. According to the department, she was scheduled for release in mid-2023.

The VADOC is not releasing the inmate's name to protect the family's privacy.

As of April 14, the VADOC has identified 44 inmates and 32 staff members with active COVID-19 cases out of their total population of 30,000 offenders and 12,000 employees across Virginia.

They say they're working closely with the Virginia Department of Health and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for corrections.

Plan for inmate releases?

Governor Ralph Northam recently

to allow the department to release inmates with less than one year remaining in their sentences who also meet standards for good behavior and aren't considered potential dangers. That plan has to be approved by the General Assembly later this month.

Under the proposed amendment, the Dept. of Corrections would handle re-entry planning for about 2,000 inmates. The authority would last for the duration of Gov. Northam's executive orders, which are currently set until June 10.

Visitation

Visitation has been suspended at all Virginia correctional facilities since March 13.

In some facilities, like Middle River Regional Jail, inmates get two free calls a week. Jail officials say inmates can also continue to stay in contact with family through email, writing letters, and additional debit and collect phone calls.

What about releases of non-violent offenders locally?

More than 30 inmates had been released from Middle River Regional Jail by the end of March to help reduce overcrowding amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sixteen inmates from Augusta County had been released, as well as 15 inmates from Waynesboro, who were each either admitted to bail or had the remainder of their sentence furloughed until June 1.

Prosecutors in the Shenandoah Valley have been evaluating which inmates could be released from the jail to reduce the population at risk.

Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin is one of those prosecutors.

"The prosecutors in the area got together and came up with criteria and among those criteria are non-violent inmates who were going to be released within the next 30 days anyway," Martin said.

He said he thinks it's important to protect vulnerable people both in and outside the facilities, and that's done by making sure COVID-19 doesn't spread.

"That's bad for the inmates, but it's also really bad for the population at large, because there is movement in and out of the facility," Martin said.

While some may have concerns about public safety, Martin said they have not released any inmates they think would be a danger to the general public.

"The numbers are very small, and we've done everything that we can to vet each and every one of the people who is being released early," Martin said.

The inmates being considered for release are non-violent. For example, Martin said one inmate released early was someone serving time for petit larceny. Additionally, not everyone is being released. Martin said some are being put on home electronic monitoring, and some are being furloughed, meaning they'd have to serve the rest of their time at a later date.

Newton said if people have questions about if someone is being released, they should contact their respective commonwealth attorney's office or court. He said the jail does not have the authority to decide who is released.