Attorney gets client out of jail over COVID-19 concerns; state pushes effort

Updated: Mar. 31, 2020 at 2:07 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Jails and prisons around the commonwealth are figuring out what to do about inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorneys are working around the clock to get some of their clients from behind bars before it’s too late. Getting out of a local jail or state prison during the pandemic isn’t easy. Just ask defense attorney Elliott Harding.

"Each court, each jurisdiction is kind of having to go about it in their own way," said Harding.

But he did get his client out of a Charlottesville-area jail.

“In this clients case he was Pretrial. So he hasn’t been convicted of anything. It’s a nonviolent charge and so kinda fits right in with the wheelhouse of the folks who are at the top of the list,” said Harding.

Harding’s client is just one of thousands of cases across the commonwealth being looked at as part of the governor’s request to expedite the release of certain prisoners. The state is also reviewing the few still available for parole, after it was abolished in the 90s.

"The first person that gets it, it’s going to be like a ticking time bomb because inmates aren’t six or ten feet from each other. They’re almost on top of each other,” said Harding.

But releasing anyone from custody does come with strict criteria.

“Additionally by constitution the victims need to be notified and you have to provide victims time to weigh in on their decision and that is an ongoing process,” said Brian Moran, Virginia Homeland Security Secretary.

The state is also making sure those charged with lesser crimes during this pandemic aren’t put behind bars in the first place. Inmates who were already set to get out before this issue will also have their release moved up.

"Both of those efforts and decisions have eliminated additional interaction which is ultimately what we’re trying to do with self distancing,” said Moran.

Meanwhile, Harding is now working on several Henrico County judicial cases. Those are cases involving people who have been convicted, but are behind bars awaiting sentencing. He hopes to get those folks temporarily out as well.

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