‘He wasn’t sentenced to die’: A plea for the state to do more to help those incarcerated

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Eighteen-year-old Jayln Midgette is terrified for her dad who is behind bars at Buckingham Correctional Center.

“He wasn’t sentenced to die,” Midgette said Thursday as she held back tears.

Midgette’s father is part of what is known as the Fishback cases and could be eligible for parole.

“Imagining him getting the virus is really upsetting because what if he dies and I never see him again,” the teen said.

Midgette spoke during a Zoom conference meeting with the COVID-19 Justice Coalition. The group is made up of more than 40 organizations across Virginia, including the ACLU of Virginia and the Legal Aid Justice Center, calling on Governor Ralph Northam and his administration to do more to stop the spread of the coronavirus in our prisons, jails and youth detention centers.

Ashna Khanna with the ACLU of Virginia read a letter from Cynthia Scott, an inmate at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

“I am scared to death. I live in a wing with 27 other women, most women have to share a cell and we all have to share the same showers. It is impossible for us to keep 6 feet away from us,” Khanna read.

The Virginia Department of Corrections says it’s taking precautions in its prisons by following CDC guidelines and requiring all offenders to wear sneeze and cough guards. Yet, the inmates words echo concerns from multiple viewers who emailed 8News.

For instance, one viewer wrote, “They can not do social distance when they’re bunks beds sit 3 feet apart in rows.”

The COVID-19 Justice Coalition is calling for the immediate release of anyone who doesn’t pose an imminent threat of bodily harm to others.

“Custodial facilities are tinderboxes that pose a threat to public safety,” said Khanna.

The groups is also requesting immediate conditional pardons for those who are a year or less away from release and for people with misdemeanors they say issue a summons and release them. Joseph Platania, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Charlottesville, says their local jail is doing it successfully.

“We have released since March 16, 171 individuals,” Platania explained.

The governor has called on judges and prosecutors to consider home electronic monitoring to reduce the jail and prison population and 8News has been told the parole board is working overtime but there’s a process.

Yet, Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia says this, “The Governor has complete discretion is to exercise his clemency authority as he chooses to.”

The group also believes every custodial facility in the state should publicly report their daily COVID-19 information.

“The public has a right to know how many people are being tested, how many people tested positive and how many people have been released,” Khanna said.

The ACLU of Virginia has also set up a hotline to receive information on civil right and civil liberties violations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anyone with information should email COVID19@acluva.org or call (804) 803-3566.

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