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ACLU Demands VA Protect Prisoners from COVID

NBC12 Richmond

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Virginia’s Department of Corrections boasted it was used to dealing with contagious diseases and assured the public it was doing everything possible to protect inmates.  Today, 31 are dead, more than half from the Deerfield Correctional Center.

It’s been more than four months since the Virginia Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union – the state pledging changes to better protect inmates. The civil liberties union says Virginia is not living up to that promise.  Case in point, the Deerfield Correctional Center which houses the oldest and sickest prisoners.

“Conditions there have deteriorated very quickly.  People who are infected are being held with people who are not infected,” says the ACLU’s legal director, Eden Heilman. She reports 723 people have been diagnosed with COVID at Deerfield, and 17 have died.

“They continually say, 'Oh we’ve issued 900 pages of guidance documents,' Heilman adds. "The number of pages of guidance that they’ve issued isn’t going to cut it.  That’s not what ensures people’s safety.  It’s actually making sure that you have the boots on the ground that you need, you have the procedures in place to make sure people are following those procedures, and what we know from people there – first hand – is that’s not what’s happening,” she concludes.

Heilman filed a legal complaint on behalf of several inmates including one man at high risk for death from the virus.  He had cancer, diabetes and Hepatitis-C and was eligible for early release, but the state had not reviewed his case.  We asked Heilman how old that inmate was, and she went to her computer to check.

“Oh my God!” she said in dismay. “I just got notice that he actually passed away last night.” 

He was 67 and had contracted COVID-19.

“And his release date was August of 2021, and he had a parole date of December 2020.”

Heilman hopes to meet with lawyers for the state sometime this week, and if no agreement is reached, she’ll go back to a federal judge overseeing the original settlement.  

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