Haynesville inmate with asthma, hepatitis C sues Virginia officials: ‘He didn’t go in for a death sentence’

Virginia News

Haynesville Correctional Center

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An inmate at Haynesville Correctional Center with hepatitis C and asthma is suing the Virginia Department of Corrections claiming the prison, which has dealt with a coronavirus outbreak that has sickened more than 100 inmates, has failed “to adequately address the extreme health risk” of the pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond on April 24, argues that the plaintiff, Howard Bowen Hankins, Jr., is at high risk of being infected with the virus as he cannot avoid others while living in close quarters at the prison.

“Bowen is currently housed in compact quarters with no less than ten (10) but as many as ninety (90) other adult inmates in their immediate housing facility,” the suit alleges. “He sleeps two to three feet away from other inmates and the amount of space they have at his current facility makes it impossible for inmates and staff to be six (6) feet apart from one another.”

According to VADOC, 109 offenders and five employees at Haynesville have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday. The department of corrections did not immediately respond to 8News’ request for comment.

“HCC is normally overcrowded and has remained the same during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many individuals come and go from the prison on a routine basis and have been in contact with other inmates, VDOC Staff, and contractors who have contracted the virus,” the complaint states.

An undated photo of Howard Bowen Hankins, Jr. with his daughter.

Ten days before Hankins’ suit was filed, an inmate at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland died from COVID-19. Like Hankins, she suffered from underlying health conditions including asthma and hepatitis C.

The suit, which categorizes the confinement at Haynesville during the pandemic as “cruel and unusual punishment,” also names as defendants multiple state officials, including Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran.

“The Defendants have a duty to protect Bowen from these conditions and these risks, they have not done so in a reasonable fashion, and are therefore depriving him in an extreme manner via conditions of confinement that constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment,” the suit claims.

Hankins has served 10 of his 15-year sentence after being convicted on drug, robbery and firearm charges. William Akers, the attorney representing Hankins, said that his client struggled with opioids and shouldn’t be categorized as a violent criminal.

“He didn’t go in for a death sentence,” Akers told 8News over the phone Wednesday.

Hankins is seeking damages, including the cost of his medical care and his attorney’s fees, in the suit.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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