The ACLU of Virginia sent a second notice of noncompliance on Tuesday to the Office of the Attorney General alleging the state’s failure to follow the settlement agreement in Whorley v. Northam, a lawsuit brought against the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), the governor, and members of the governor’s administration on behalf of 27 people who are incarcerated in Virginia prisons.
The notice calls out Deerfield Correctional Center, which houses the largest number of geriatric people and has experienced a recent outbreak of COVID-19. A total of 723 people incarcerated at Deerfield, and 33 of its staff members, have tested positive for COVID-19. Eleven people have died from the virus – more than any other Virginia prison.
Along with the notice, the ACLU of Virginia sent declarations from multiple individuals in VDOC custody at Deerfield demonstrating lack of proper medical care. One of the individuals, Askia Asmar, is a 67-year-old man who suffers from liver and lung cancer, diabetes, Hepatitis C and high blood pressure. He alleges that officials neglected to provide care for his cancer, placed him in a housing unit with COVID-positive people, and refused to give him medical attention even after he filled out 15 medical request forms and complained of extreme pain. Asmar recently tested positive for COVID-19. He is eligible for parole in December.
“I can only pray,” Asmar said. “That is all I have.”
“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,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “The governor also has the power to release people through conditional pardons, but he seems to be relying on VDOC to reduce the prison population. As a result, Virginia has the absolute lowest release rate in the country during this pandemic. No one in our government is looking out for the well-being of people in Virginia prisons.”
According to a nationwide analysis by The Marshall Project and the Associated Press, Virginia decreased its prison population by only 2%, lower than any other state and the federal system.
The ACLU of Virginia launched a web page to release the data from VDOC on its early release program and COVID-19 testing. Weekly data reports and other documents from VDOC are available here.
Declarations from incarcerated individuals are available in the attached documents below.