Washington Supreme Court blocks coronavirus-related release of violent convicts

Thanks to a close state Supreme Court decision this week, violent convicts in Washington won’t be released due to coronavirus concerns, the Washington Examiner reported.

In a 5-4 ruling, the justices of the state’s high court rejected arguments made by lawyer Nicholas Straley, who contended that the state’s correctional facilities are ill-equipped to protect inmates from COVID-19.

“We can all hold out in our homes. We can decide who we allow into our homes,” Straley was quoted by local Fox affiliate KCPQ as saying. “People in prison do not have that option,” he added.

Weighing the risks

“All of the evidence in the court record showed that the Governor’s and the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) actions to date have been insufficient to meet public health recommendations,” Straley continued.

“Uniformly, national public health and correctional experts agree that to protect people in prison from the virus, a significant reduction of the prison population is necessary,” he added.

However, Assistant Attorney General John Samson didn’t agree with that assessment, and he argued that there are other ways the threat to prisoner health can be addressed, pointing to the fact that inmates have been provided with protective gear such as face masks and that significant testing of incarcerated individuals had already begun, according to the Washington Examiner.

“If there are unconstitutional conditions, the remedy is not release from confinement, the remedy is to fix those unconstitutional conditions and we would submit that they have not even made that first step of showing unconstitutional conditions,”  Samson said.

Dangerous ripple effects

The assistant AG also pointed to some of the potentially serious practical consequences of turning large numbers of offenders back out onto the street.

“A large majority of individuals under normal circumstances become homeless,” Samson pointed out, adding that a large influx of new homeless individuals would mean “the resources are going to be broke and the system’s going to be broken.”

According to KCPQ, some 24 corrections employees and 13 inmates have thus far tested positive for COVID-19, with most of the cases impacting the Monroe Correctional Complex.

It was also reported that notorious serial killer Gary Ridgway was among those who could have been turned loose had the lawsuit succeeded.

Dubbed the “Green River Killer,” Ridgway was given a life sentence in 2003 for the murder of 49 people, although authorities suspect that he may have killed many more.

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