Release COVID-19 Vulnerable Women From Virginia Prison
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Cynthia Scott and Melissa Atkins are both incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, which is notorious for its abysmal health conditions. In 2015, the Fluvanna facility entered into a settlement agreement with incarcerated women who alleged that the medical care at the facility was so poor it violated their constitutional rights—and another fifteen women have died at the Fluvanna facility since then. The facility’s practices during the pandemic have continued to raise serious health concerns. No widespread COVID-19 testing was available at the Fluvanna facility until the end of May, the National Guard used the same pair of gloves to test over a dozen women in Cynthia's and Melissa’s unit, and they maintained no social distancing between the women or officials during the testing. Eight inmates have tested positive, and as of August 8, 2020, the facility notified incarcerated women that three staff members had tested positive—including medical and food services employees at the Fluvanna facility.
During their incarceration, Cynthia and Melissa have bonded and formed a friendship over their common experiences: both are mothers with strong relationships with their families, both suffer from serious health conditions that have been exacerbated by inadequate medical care at the Fluvanna facility—and now, both face a heightened risk of serious illness or death during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially while incarcerated at Fluvanna.
Cynthia and Melissa have submitted clemency petitions for early release because of the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of their stories is included in detail below. Cynthia and Melissa have each served nearly two decades of their sentences, they pose no threat to society if released, and every day that they spend in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women threatens their lives. In Cynthia's words: “I was not sentenced to death, and I don’t want to die here. But I am afraid I will when the coronavirus comes.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has the power to release Cynthia and Melissa right now. Signing and sharing this petition can help draw Governor Northam’s attention to Cynthia and Melissa’s petitions for early release, reunite them with their families, and even save their lives. We are so thankful for your support.
Cynthia Scott is a 50-year-old Black woman who suffers from multiple serious medical conditions that place her at heightened risk of serious illness or death during the COVID-19 pandemic, including kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, and a chronic inflammatory condition called sarcoidosis that impacts her lungs, heart, liver, and spleen. She is also taking immunosuppressant medications, which weaken her already compromised immune system. Cynthia has personally experienced the inadequate health care at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women for over a decade, including failure to treat her sarcoidosis, which resulted in permanent scarring of Cynthia's lungs that will forever impair her ability to breathe.
Cynthia is a mother and a college-educated veteran with a computer science degree. Prior to her incarceration, her struggle with addiction led her to commit a series of theft-related crimes. After Cynthia pleaded guilty to several crimes related to a robbery she helped to carry out, her pre-sentence report recommended a guideline sentencing range between 10 and 24 years. Instead, the court issued a sentence of 91 years—well over three times the length of the highest end of the guidelines range. Even though the court subsequently suspended part of her sentence, Cynthia was still sentenced to serve over 42 years in prison. She has already served 17 years of her sentence.
Cynthia has completely turned her life around. Throughout her incarceration, Cynthia has maintained a strong relationship with her mother and daughters. She piloted an advanced program to teach computer skills to fellow incarcerated women, and she has taken—and now leads—classes on addiction. Today, both Cynthia’s family members and the individuals impacted by Cynthia's crimes support her release—the victim’s family members even went so far as to submit a letter in support of her petition to the Governor, because they feel she has more than paid her debt.
Melissa Atkins is a 46-year-old white woman who suffers from serious degenerative rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that places her at heightened risk of serious illness or death during the COVID-19 pandemic. To control her arthritis, Melissa is on immunosuppressant medications—including methotrexate, an especially intense prescription traditionally used for chemotherapy—which weaken her already compromised immune system. Like Cynthia, Melissa has personally experienced the inadequate health care at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Melissa was placed in quarantine while awaiting a COVID-19 test. The conditions in segregation were extremely unsanitary, and they failed to comply with many of the needs highlighted in Melissa’s medical profile, including her need for a handicap-accessible cell. Instead, Melissa was placed in a room with no call button for staff assistance and no handrail for her to pull herself up from a seated position, and she was told that, in case of an emergency, she should shout and kick the door until she got someone’s attention.
Melissa is a mother with a nursing assistant license who worked as a child care provider for the Montgomery County Department of Social Services prior to her incarceration. Melissa's conviction stemmed from a classic battered woman's case. Melissa experienced severe physical and emotional abuse from her former husband for nearly a decade—he beat her, pulled out her hair, burned her with cigarettes, and controlled when and where she could leave her home. One evening, her former husband ordered her to leave the house, and when Melissa returned earlier than expected, she walked in on her husband forcing her nine-year-old son to perform oral sex on him. Horrified and shocked at what she was witnessing, Melissa grabbed one of her husband’s guns and shot and killed her husband. She was subsequently hospitalized for a dissociative episode, and when she realized what she had done, Ms. Atkins pleaded guilty to the charges against her. Melissa received a 53-year sentence with 25 years suspended, leaving her to serve 28 years in prison. She has already served 20 years of her sentence. Ms. Atkins has no other criminal record, and there is no risk that she would reoffend.
During her incarceration, Melissa has maintained a strong relationship with her family, and she has completed courses for self-betterment, including classes on anger management, conflict resolution, mindful meditation, healthful living, Christian parenting, and more. Melissa has also exhibited model behavior throughout her sentence—she has zero disciplinary infractions during her 20 years of incarceration. Melissa’s petition is supported by letters from her family, her doctor from the University of Virginia Medical Center, and one of her employers from the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
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