OLYMPIA -- The state Department of Corrections will grant early release to 950 inmates in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19 in state prisons.
Gov. Jay Inslee made the announcement Monday, noting that the inmates getting early release are nonviolent offenders who are more vulnerable to complications from novel coronavirus.
At least 14 Washington state Department of Corrections employees and eight inmates have tested positive for the new coronavirus, with the state’s largest outbreak happening at the Monroe Correctional Complex where five workers and seven offenders have COVID-19. Tests are pending for an additional 50 inmates.
A group of Monroe inmates, represented by Columbia Legal Services, asked the Washington Supreme Court to order Inslee and Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair to release inmates who are 50 years or older, those who have underlying health conditions and offenders who are close to their release date.
That would have comprised about 12,000 of the state's 16,000 inmates, according to the governor's office. Their case was due to be heard on April 27.
After a demonstration turned violent last week, the lawyers asked the court for emergency help.
On Friday, the justices ordered Inslee and Sinclair “to immediately exercise their authority to take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of the named petitioners and all Department of Corrections inmates in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
They had until noon Monday to submit their report.
The plan will focus on inmates serving time for nonviolent and drug- or alcohol-related offenses, as well as people held on lower-level supervision violations. Some inmates will be released through commutation, while others will be released into a modified graduated reentry program.