Battling coronavirus, Northam seeks faster release of prisoners
Governor also announces state task force to battle COVID-19 in nursing homes.
In light of the threat that coronavirus could pose to prison inmates, Gov. Ralph Northam has asked the state Department of Corrections to begin planning for the release of nonviolent prisoners with less than a year of time left to serve, the governor said during his Friday coronavirus news conference.
When the General Assembly reconvenes on April 22, legislators will consider a budget amendment from Northam that would grant DOC with the authority to release prisoners with less than a year left to serve and who have demonstrated good behavior and are not a threat to public safety or others. Inmates would be released in an accelerated fashion within “weeks,” Northam said, and he has tasked DOC with planning for how they could safely be released and provided with reentry services.
Additionally, as the death toll reached 39 at the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico County, Northam said he has tapped Dr. Laurie Forlano, the Virginia Department of Health’s deputy commissioner for public health, to lead a state government task force to coordinate with long-term care medical facilities and nursing homes responding to COVID-19 infections. Forlano also leads the state’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy.
The cross-disciplinary task force, which will consist of different state secretariats and agencies, will assist long-term care facilities and nursing homes by providing additional resources to fight the coronavirus, including strengthening staffing and infection control measures and providing needed supplies such as COVID-19 test kits, personal protective equipment and cleaning materials, Northam said.
“As we continue to fight the virus together, it’s clear that while we’ve taken a lot of steps across the commonwealth to protect residents of nursing homes and staff … we need to offer them more help,” Forlano said Friday. “Residents who live in these facilities are often among the most vulnerable to the virus due to their age or health conditions they might have, and on top of that, social distancing is pretty difficult to achieve in a congregate care living situation.”
“Every person in assisted living or long-term care is someone’s parent or loved one,” Northam said. “It is vital we protect them. Dr. Forlano and this task force will do just that.”