Lawyers call for independent expert to evaluate COVID-19 response at Deerfield Correctional Center

Coronavirus

12 inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 have died

(WRIC) — Lawyers representing Virginia prisoners have called for an independent expert to step in and evaluate the commonwealth’s response to the coronavirus outbreak at Deerfield Correctional Center.

The call-of-action comes after news that a 12th inmate has died due to the virus. Hundreds of others, including staff, remain sick. has died from the virus.

Concerns at Deerfield prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia to file a second notice of non-compliance on behalf of prisoners.

The notice alleges the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) isn’t living up to the terms of a settlement agreement signed in May. The agreement was supposed to resolve inmate complaints of inadequate care. The ACLU says prisoners are still being neglected, however.

The notice sent to the Office of Attorney General includes a report from a Deerfield inmate named Askia Asmar. Asmar, a 67-year-old man with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health issues, alleges that officials neglected to provide care for his cancer and placed him in a housing unit with COVID-positive people.

Asmar, who is eligible for parole in December, recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The notice also includes a declaration from James Dillingham III, who says he felt he was having COVID-19 symptoms but was treated for allergies. Two weeks later, he was hospitalized and learned he had the coronavirus.

In a statement, Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia, said: “VDOC is medically neglecting the people in its care and isn’t doing nearly enough to release people who are eligible under the early release program.”

DOC says it has “taken major steps” to manage the outbreak including hiring additional nurses to assist existing staff.

DOC adds that it is following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) guidelines for nursing homes in addition to guidelines for corrections.

The Department also reports personal protective equipment (PPE) is readily available for offenders and staff at DFCC. Corrections officers working at Deerfield disagree, however.

Half of dozen officers spoke exclusively with 8News. Viewers can hear from them Friday on 8News at 6 p.m.

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