Even under normal circumstances, Virginia has extremely limited release mechanisms for elderly and sick incarcerated individuals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this problem is especially acute, as individuals behind bars cannot physically distance or effectively sanitize spaces. There have been significant COVID-19 outbreaks at multiple correctional facilities in Virginia, including Augusta Correctional Center, Coffeewood Correctional Center, and Deerfield Correctional Center. As of January 6th, 2021, over 7,600 people incarcerated in Virginia’s correctional facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. Forty-seven incarcerated individuals and two staff members have died.
On April 22, 2020, the Virginia state legislature passed a budget amendment to grant the Virginia Department of Corrections the authority to release certain incarcerated individuals with less than one year remaining on their sentences. Soon after, NACDL mobilized Virginians to write to Governor Northam and urge him to release as many people as safely possible, part of a ongoing advocacy campaign through which individuals have sent over 250 messages to governors across the country, urging them to strategically decarcerate state and local facilities.
In May 2020, Governor Northam promised as part of a settlement agreement to prioritize and promptly review conditional pardon applications for medically vulnerable individuals. However, his office has consistently refused to provide any data regarding the number of applications filed, reviewed, and approved or denied. On NACDL’s Action Center, find our continuing campaign to keep pressure on Governor Northam to increase transparency and action around conditional pardons.
Since the early days of the pandemic, NACDL has been involved with the Virginia COVID-19 Justice Coalition, which is continuing to call for the swift release of as many incarcerated Virginians as possible and for accountability and data transparency around the release process. The coalition hosted a biweekly virtual town hall series throughout 2020, featuring state elected officials, advocacy organizations, family members of incarcerated individuals, public defenders, Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and others. Recordings of all previously live-streamed townhalls are available on the coalition’s Facebook page.