June 11, 2020
The Marshall Report notes that a federal appeals court overturned a trial judge’s order to release medically vulnerable people from FCI Elkton, a federal prison in Ohio. FCI Elkton, is located in Lisbon Ohio which is approximately 90 miles from Cleveland and 60 miles from Pittsburgh. The facility incarcerates a total of 2274 men. Covid-19 has hit Elkton very hard. According to the Bureau of Prisons website, 438 men have active cases as well as 7 staff people. According to FOX19NOW.com, a Cleveland TV station, 523 inmates (approximately 25% of the total) have tested positive for Covid-19. At least 9 people have died at Elkton from the virus. In April, soldiers from the Ohio National Guard spent several weeks on a medical mission at the prison. The soldiers helped treat and transport the seriously ill patients.
The seriousness of the outbreak at Elkton prompted a lawsuit which argued that the Bureau of Prisons should be releasing inmates with serious underlying medical conditions and/or who over the age of 60. In April, U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled that prison officials were not doing enough to mitigate the danger to inmates. Judge Gwin ordered prison officials to transfer or release elderly prisoners and those with serious underlying health conditions.
Recently a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals split 2-1, striking down Judge Gwin’s ruling. The Appeals Court’s majority ruled that the Bureau of Prisons took sufficient action to mitigate the outbreak. The dissenting judge wrote that the BOP was too slow in responding to the rising number of deaths at Elkton. He also faulted the BOP for presenting incomplete and insufficient action plans. You can read a full news account of the Appeal’s Court majority and dissenting ruling at POLITICO.
Recently, one of our pen pals received a letter from an inmate at Elkton. He wrote, “The BOP staff moved around everybody here to different units back and forth between infected and “clean” units all day two days ago. We are now being quarantined and locked down. There has been a lot of hostility here and hopefully we don’t have fights breaking out because of the high tension.”
Prisons, like nursing homes, are hothouses for Covid-19. We as a nation have done so little to protect frail seniors and the incarcerated from the ravages of the virus. It is time to say enough and for federal and state prison authorities to release elderly prisoners and those with underlying medical conditions. People convicted of crimes were not sentenced with death or illness. Governors have the power to release more people from their prisons. Both Governor Northam and Hogan could do so much more to protect the people in their custody.