The ACLU of Virginia joined a federal class action lawsuit as co-counsel with Charlottesville attorney Elliott Harding on behalf of 27 people who are incarcerated in Virginia prisons. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, April 8 against Gov. Ralph Northam, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran and other state officials. It alleges that Virginia is violating the U.S. Constitution by failing to decarcerate overcrowded facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and asks that the Commonwealth be ordered to immediately decrease the number of people in custody, implement policies for social distancing, and require staff members to wear personal protection equipment.
After weeks of intense negotiations with the Office of the Attorney General, the parties reached a settlement agreement in the lawsuit on May 11, 2020. The settlement agreement, which was approved by and can be enforced by the federal court, commits VDOC to review promptly those incarcerated individuals eligible for early release under the governor’s budget amendment and sets up procedures for the Secretary of the Commonwealth to consider conditional pardons for individuals with medical issues or COVID-19 related concerns. The agreement also sets up mechanisms to ensure that incarcerated individuals are receiving prompt medical treatment, that prisons are clean, sanitized, and that appropriate protective equipment is provided to both residents and staff.