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ACLU urges release of some nonviolent offenders to combat coronavirus spread

As the coronavirus begins to hit correctional facilities, groups are calling for the release of nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks. 

Capital News Service

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By Rodney Robinson

As the coronavirus hits correctional facilities, the ACLU is calling for the release of some nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks and keep residents and staff safe.

The Virginia ACLU submitted a letter to the governor, along with the executive guidance document. The document focuses on reducing the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, including reducing the intake of people. The organization called for an immediate release of all people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at-risk for COVID-19, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, whose sentences would end in the next two years. The ACLU also wants the governor to begin a process of immediate release for anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, anyway.

There are a limited number of eligible parole cases that can be reviewed for early release, according to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, who said at a press conference Monday that an expeditious review is “still ongoing.”

“There are a number of challenges because by the code we have no parole in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Moran said. “It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.”

Moran said the parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals and has expedited release of parole for those already paroled, in effort to eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.

 Three inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. One inmate at the Central Virginia Correctional Unit 13 for women has tested positive for COVID-19, according to VADOC. Four VADOC employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus. As of April 3, the Virginia Department of Health reports 2,012 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 46 deaths. From March 27 to April 3, 1,552 cases were confirmed, or 77% of all cases since the state’s first case was reported on March 7.

 “We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” ACLU Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said in a press release. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”

Almost two weeks ago the governor announced measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak among residents and staff, such as modifying sentences, diverting offenders from serving jail terms, utilizing home electronic monitoring and reducing low-risk individuals being held without bail.

Elliott B. Bender, founder of Bender Law Group in Richmond and president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the governor’s measures are great in theory “for the safety of all of us.” However, he is concerned that they are not being implemented consistently and completely. Consistency and getting all branches of government on the same page are important in this process, according to Bender.

Moran said state code mandates the victims involved need to be notified of a prisoner’s potential early release.

“And you have to provide victims time to weigh in on the decision,” Moran said. “And that is an ongoing process as well.”

To combat the virus, visitation and volunteer activities remain closed at correctional facilities, according to the VADOC. People entering VADOC correctional facilities will be screened using thermometers. In addition, the department ordered 112,000 additional bars of soap. Virginia Correctional Enterprises, which employs incarcerated people to produce a variety of goods, is now manufacturing about 30,000 sneeze and cough guard masks per day for inmates and staff, according to VADOC. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to work.

 Also, there are measures taken to ensure safety once a person leaves a VADOC facility. All inmates leaving a correctional facility are screened for COVID-19 on the day of their release, according to  VADOC.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Victim identified in Arthur Ashe Boulevard homicide

At approximately 1:43 a.m., Tuesday, June 2nd, RPD officers were called to the Rodeway Inn in the 3200 block of N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard for a report of a person shot. They quickly located a victim, Jermaine R. Stroman, 30, of Chester, VA lying in a third floor hallway. He had been shot.

RVAHub Staff

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The Richmond Police Department is investigating a homicide that occurred last night on the city’s north side.

At approximately 1:43 a.m., Tuesday, June 2nd, RPD officers were called to the Rodeway Inn in the 3200 block of N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard for a report of a person shot. They quickly located a victim, Jermaine R. Stroman, 30, of Chester, VA lying in a third floor hallway. He had been shot.

He was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:55 a.m.

Anyone with information about this homicide is asked to contact Detective G. Bailey at (804) 646-6743 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or www.7801000.com or the P3 smartphone app. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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Crime

Richmond Police, Mayor Stoney apologize after tear gas deployed before curfew on protesters

Protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday night and were met with a forceful response and the deployment of tear gas by Richmond Police – an action for which the department and Mayor Stoney later apologized.

RVAHub Staff

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Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday afternoon and evening to speak out after the death of George Floyd. The group organized near both the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart Monuments on Monument Avenue and remained mainly peaceful until police approached demonstrators at the Lee statue and deployed tear gas, as can be seen below from the below Twitter video from VPM.

Around the same time, reports began coming in that protesters at the Stuart monument were attempting to bring it down. A young demonstrator scaled the base of the statue and took what appeared to be a hack saw to the leg of the monument’s horse in an effort to bring it down. Police responded by calling on protesters to stand down, citing the weight of the monuments and their potential to crush bystanders.

Richmond Police and Mayor Levar Stoney later apologized for the deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters – well below the 8:00 PM curfew – saying it was uncalled for and inviting protesters to City Hall at noon Tuesday to “apologize in person.” For its part, RPD said the officers involved had been “removed from the field” and would be subject to disciplinary action.

The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.

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Protests turn violent in Downtown Richmond Friday night

Hundreds took to the street to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. A police cruiser and Pulse bus were torched, and several shots rang out into the air overnight.

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Hundreds of people protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed earlier this week by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, took to the streets of Downtown Richmond last night to make their voices heard.

While the protests started off peacefully, things quickly took a turn. Around 10:45 PM Friday, a Facebook Live stream showed WWBT/NBC12 reporter Karina Bolster, who was reporting from the scene, struck in the head by a protester chanting “stop recording” using a water bottle. Her phone was also tossed to the street. Bolster, clearly shaken, did not stop recording and continued reporting through tears as she came to terms with what just happened.

As the night progressed, protesters set a dumpster on fire and later marched to Richmond Police headquarters at 200 W. Grace Street and surrounded the building. Richmond officers were joined by State Police and backup requested from surrounding localities to protect the building and officers inside. Nearby, a police cruiser was torched.

Into the early morning hours of Saturday, a GRTC Pulse bus was also set ablaze, the shell of which remained near the corner of W. Broad Street and Belvidere Street as dawn broke.

Several arrests were made overnight, but Richmond Police has yet to confirm a number.

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