OLYMPIA — Hundreds of inmates will be released early from prison in the coming days as the state complies with a Supreme Court order to better protect prisoners from a COVID-19 outbreak inside Washington correctional facilities.
Under a plan submitted to the state’s highest court Monday, the focus will be on individuals incarcerated for nonviolent and drug- or alcohol-related offenses whose release dates are within six to eight months, as well as people held on lower-level supervision violations.
“This will help allow for increased physical distancing throughout the Department of Corrections system, reducing the population by up to 950 people to continue to reduce the risks to incarcerated individuals while balancing public safety concerns,“ Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
The early release plan comes days after inmates staged a protest at the Monroe Correctional Complex, where seven incarcerated people have tested positive for the potentially deadly coronavirus.
On Friday, in response to an emergency request from inmates, the Supreme Court directed the state to immediately “take all necessary steps” to protect the health and safety of prisoners. Justices required Inslee and Secretary of Corrections Steve Sinclair to submit an emergency action plan no later than noon Monday.
The state owes the court another update Friday. Oral arguments regarding the inmates’ original petition, filed last month, are scheduled to be heard April 23.
Attorneys for the inmates asked the court last week to compel the department to immediately test anyone who has been in custody the past 14 days; to ensure robust screening, isolation and quarantine procedures; and to begin releasing inmates who are vulnerable or close to their release dates.
Three Supreme Court justices on Friday expressed their willingness to release the five inmates who petitioned the court, citing the extraordinary circumstances presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, which had infected at least 10,411 people across the state as of Sunday and killing 508.
Corrections officials reported that as of Monday, eight prisoners had tested positive for coronavirus, seven of whom are incarcerated in Monroe. At least 14 employees statewide have contracted the virus, including five in Monroe.