Wagoner concerned about releasing prisoners due to COVID-19

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, issued the following statement regarding the governor’s decision to release up to 950 incarcerated individuals from the state’s correctional facilities due to risks of contracting COVID-19.

“As the prime sponsor of the only legislation directly addressing inmate health care and procedures in the last legislative session, I have a vested interest in the health and safety of inmates and staff in our state’s correctional facilities.  In mid-March, when we were just learning of the coronavirus, I met with Department of Corrections (DOC) staff members to discuss the then possibility of the virus getting into our corrections facilities and to learn their assessment of their own readiness to deal with infectious disease. At that time, I was assured DOC had already taken seasonal precautions to combat influenza outbreaks and was well prepared to properly isolate inmates with contagious diseases.  I believed that was the case then, and I believe it is the case now.

“The fact that the administration is acquiescing to a yet-unfinished court proceeding is troubling.  There are only eight known COVID 19 positive tests in the entire inmate population system statewide. Seven are at Monroe Correctional Center and one is assumed to have contracted it outside the facility while hospitalized (where he remains). The idea that we would commute sentences or provide so-called “early release” options for up to 950 inmates is an unforced error that serves neither inmate health nor public safety.

“There is absolutely no assurance that these inmates would have appropriate COVID-19-free environments outside the correctional facilities; they could be more likely to be exposed to this virus if released. And without adequate testing, we may actually be introducing the virus to our communities. A rapid release of inmates is also likely to overwhelm post-incarceration services and available housing. With everything else the state is struggling with, we should not be taking rash action to mollify special-interest groups just because they have attorneys.”