Federal prosecutors have filed an appeal to the decision of U.S. Judge James Gwin to release or relocate medically vulnerable inmates Elkton federal prison in Ohio where seven inmates have died from COVID-19.
Gwin had issued the temporary injunction last Wednesday and ruled that prison officials identify all inmates over the age of 65 and those with medical vulnerabilities and evaluate “eligibility for transfer out of Elkton through any means, including but not limited to compassionate release, parole or community supervision, transfer furlough or non-transfer furlough within two weeks.”
The Department of Justice had previously issued guidance to maximize home confinement but as the coronavirus ravaged Elkton, where about a third of the 2,4000 inmates were identified by the Bureau of Prisons as fitting the qualifications, advocates warned the Feds weren't doing nearly enough to protect inmates.
The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit on April 13 on the prisoners' behalf after three inmates died. Three more died before Gwin could issue a ruling. One has died since. Elkton has become one of the most-infected federal prisons in the country in the interim.
U.S. Attorneys this week filed an appeal in Ohio's Sixth District seeking relief from Gwin's order, including his decision this week to shoot down a motion to keep the list of qualified inmates and their medical information under seal. The ACLU argued that keeping the names and conditions secret would prevent them and others from identifying any other inmates left off the list.
A similar suit filed by the ACLU in Louisiana failed to sway a judge, who declined to intervene in deciding which prisoners could be released home or transferred to another facility because it would make "the court a de facto ‘super’ warden.”
As of yesterday, 23 inmates were in the hospital, 88 were in quarantine and 49 staff members had tested positive. These numbers continue to grow and, as Gwin said in his ruling, likely represent an undercount of the true scope of the infection inside the prison's walls.
Senator Rob Portman wrote a letter this week encouraging the Bureau of Prisons to significantly ramp up testing at the prison to get an accurate picture of the problem.
“Even as we make strides in Ohio to quell this pandemic, outbreaks in congregate settings like prisons can spill over through the staff and medical professionals who are coming in and out of the prison each day to care for these inmates and could undo the progress that we are making. Additional testing today could save lives and resources," Portman wrote.
The prison will now receive 100 tests a week, his office said Monday.