The West Virginia Supreme Court has dismissed a motion from two groups that sought action for a group of inmates incarcerated in the Mountain State amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Supreme Court handed down an order on Thursday dismissing the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and the West Virginia Public Defender Services.
The ACLU and Public Defenders Services filed a petition with the Supreme Court on April 9 asking justices to order the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the West Virginia Parole Board to either release or grant bond hearings for 39 inmates named in the petition.
Attorneys for the groups also had asked the court to appoint a special master to oversee any other similar claims for release under the circumstances described in the petition.
Attorneys for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, the department over the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Parole Board responded to the motion saying that the original petition to release the inmates was largely inaccurate and included an extremely limited summary of each inmates.
They also said 12 of the 39 inmates had been released at the time they filed their response with the court.
They also said in their response that DCR officials and other government agencies had been working together to safely reduce the jail and prison populations.
On March 27, the West Virginia Supreme Court distributed a memo asking circuit judges to instruct county prosecutors to review criminal cases to determine which inmates would be good candidates for release.
Per the Supreme Court’s memo, any deal reached for a pretrial inmate’s release would have to be approved by the circuit judge or magistrate presiding in a given case.
The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation also allowed for the release of people who already were eligible for weekend furloughs and people who were serving short terms for parole violations.
Between March 19 and April 6, West Virginia decreased its jail population by 13 percent.
On April 6, U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers denied a motion asking for Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials to take further action to ensure the safety of inmates and correctional staff, saying he was satisfied with DCR officials’ plans and policies. He said it was at those officials’ discretion as to how to manage jails and prisons during the pandemic.