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Supreme Court: Inslee, Department of Corrections must protect inmates from coronavirus

Inmates at a Washington prison had asked the justices to order the release of some offenders after almost a dozen people there tested positive for the coronavirus.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington Supreme Court has told Gov. Jay Inslee to protect the health of inmates in the state during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Inmates at a Washington prison had asked the justices to order the release of some offenders after almost a dozen people there tested positive for the coronavirus, but state officials had said the process of letting inmates out will take time.  

At least seven inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex and five staff members have the virus as of Friday, according to the latest data.

In its order Friday, the high court told Inslee and Department of Corrections Secretary Steve Sinclair “to take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety” of inmates and to report back by noon Monday. 

The Washington DOC has been under pressure recently from families to protect inmates in Monroe, and elsewhere, from the coronavirus pandemic. 

During a press conference Friday, Gov. Inslee addressed the concerns. 

“What I would say their concern is worthy of respect as anybody else,” Inslee said. “I think we can all imagine if you had someone in a correctional facility and limited communication the frustration it causes and we understand it." 

Nearly 100 inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex started what the DOC called a "disturbance" Wednesday evening after six inmates tested positive for COVID-19.

RELATED: Inmates ‘riot’ over 6 coronavirus cases at Monroe Corrections Complex

An emergency petition was filed the next day on behalf of the inmates by the Columbia Legal Services to the Washington Supreme Court. The petition asked the court to order Inslee and Secretary Sinclair to release inmates who are 60 years of age or older; those with underlying health conditions; and any who are close to their release date. 

The court passed its ruling down on Friday, saying Inslee must immediately use any and all resources to protect the inmates, including letting certain inmates out. 

“This is real and we want to do what we can to protect those institutionalized,” Inslee said.

The court gave the state until Monday to come up with a plan of how they intend to do this.

On Saturday, family members of inmates at the Cedar Creek Correctional Center in Olympia will be holding a demonstration to call attention to the concerns inmates have about the coronavirus.

RELATED: Washington prisons consider early release of inmates to curb coronavirus spread