Mr. Williams filed a personal restraint petition arguing the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel punishment in violation of the State and Federal Constitutions.

            Mr. Williams asked the court to order his sentence be served in home confinement at his sister’s house in Florida until the Covid-19 was no longer a threat to him.  Mr. Williams uses a wheelchair and DOC was unable to provide reasonable access to bathroom facilities and running water.  Mr. Williams was 77 years old, and suffered from diabetes and hypertension. He had previously suffered from a stroke.

            In Response to the Covid-19 outbreak DOC took the following steps:

  • Implementing screening, testing, and infection control guidelines that are continuously updated; 
  • Employing an infectious disease physician to manage DOC’s infection prevention program; 
  • Employing specialized infection prevention nurses at major prison facilities; 
  • Daily staff screening and contact tracing; 
  • Screening and quarantining newly admitted inmates; 
  • Screening and isolating (when required) inmates transported between facilities; 
  • Instituting protocols to limit the volume of inmate transfers; 
  • Reducing the number of incarcerated individuals; 
  • Implementing an “intensive cleaning protocol” for high touch surfaces; 
  • Providing inmates with two bars of soap at no cost, ongoing free soap during the pandemic, and hand sanitizer in certain areas, and using inmates to assist with cleaning efforts; 
  • Implementing physical distancing through room occupancy limits, reducing programming and inmates in the outside yards, staggering medication lines, closing weight lifting areas, and adjusting religious services; 
  • Quarantining, isolating, and testing suspected or confirmed COVID-19 inmates; 
  • Providing bandana face coverings to inmates, and in some instances providing and requiring fit-tested N95 masks; 
  • Suspending visitation and volunteer programs at all DOC facilities; and 
  • Undertaking an incremental approach to resuming normal operations. 

            After becoming infected with Covid-19 Mr. Williams filed a personal restraint petition alleging that his conditions in DOC were a violation off the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/interpretation/amendment-viii/clauses/103

            Mr. Williams also asserted that this punishment was prohibited by the Washington Constitution.  https://leg.wa.gov/CodeReviser/Pages/WAConstitution.aspx

            Mr. Williams case was granted expedited review and the Supreme Court held that the lack of reasonable access to bathroom facilities and running water constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  In response DOC remedied the unconstitutional conditions of confinement.  

            To obtain relief through a PRP, petitioners challenging the conditions of their confinement must show they are being unlawfully restrained under RAP 16.4 In re Pers. Restraint of Gentry, 170 Wn.2d 711, 715, 245 P.3d 766 (2010).   https://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/?fa=court_rules.display&group=app&set=rap&ruleid=apprap16.04

            Williams argues the conditions of his confinement are unconstitutional under both state and federal constitutions. Washington Case law indicates that, when possible, the Court should resolve questions based upon Washington Law.  O’Day v. King County, 109 Wn.2d 796, 801-02, 749 P.2d 142 (1988) (citing State v. Coe, 101 Wn.2d 364, 373-74, 679 P.2d 353 (1984)).  The court also pointed out that Washington’s protection against cruel punishment is more protective than the Federal counter part. See, e.g., State v. Bassett, 192 Wn.2d 67, 78 & n.2, 428 P.3d 343 (2018). 

            The Supreme Court then performed the Gunwall Analysis: (1) the textual language of the state constitution, (2) differences in the texts of parallel provisions of the federal and state constitutions, (3) state constitutional and common law history, (4) preexisting state law, (5) structural differences between the federal and state constitutions, and (6) matters of particular state interest or local concern. 106 Wn.2d at 61-62. 

            The Court held that the unhygienic conditions of Williams’s confinement rather than the risk of contracting COVID-19 constitute cruel punishment under article I, section 14. Nevertheless, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious concern to incarcerated individuals and to the general public. The response from state officials to this risk provides further evidence that the issue of prison conditions is a matter of state and local concern. For example, Governor Jay Inslee issued numerous proclamations, including one directed solely at prisons. Proclamation 20-50 allowed the governor to suspend some statutes standing in the way of early release of prisoners, commute certain sentences, and order the release of some nonviolent individuals. 

The entire opinion can be read here.  https://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/993441.pdf