ACLU Files Lawsuit Seeking Release of Elkton Inmates Vulnerable to COVID-19

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Ohio Justice & Policy Center and the ACLU of Ohio filed a class action lawsuit Monday on behalf of four inmates at the Federal Correction Institution at Elkton and the 2,400 others housed at the prison. Named as defendants are Mark Williams, FCI Elkton warden, and Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that incarceration amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Elkton violates the petitioners rights to constitutional conditions of confinement under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Already, three people have died while incarcerated at Elkton due to COVID-19, and scores more have fallen ill,” court documents say. “Outside of prison walls, where people can practice social distancing and vigorous hygiene practices, COVID-19 diagnoses and death grow by thousands every day. Inside such overcrowded prisons such as Elkton, however, it is not possible to follow medically-indicated social distancing and hygiene practices, putting prisoners and staff alike at extreme risk of infection, illness, and death.”  

Declarations sworn to by the plaintiffs describe conditions inside the prison. One of the inmates stated that he feared a riot could erupt.

“It has been complete chaos since the coronavirus began to spread inside FCI Elkton,” stated inmate Craig Wilson.

“The number of people who are showing symptoms is staggering. A steady flow of people have ended up in the hospital, with ambulances leaving at all hours. I know three people have passed away. They were sick in bed with a fever, moved to a hospital, and never returned,” Wilson continued.

“The situation isn’t getting any better. Nothing is being done to protect me or others and I’m in fear for my life, because it seems like it’s only a matter of time until I get this virus. Many people around me feel the same way. I feel like I’ve been handed a death sentence.”

Filed with the lawsuit is a motion to expedite adjudication.

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, permanent injunction and/or write of habeas corpus requiring [prison officials] to identify within six hours of the court’s order, and submit to the court a list of all medically vulnerable [inmates] and release all such persons within 24 hours.”

Following the release of vulnerable inmates, the lawsuit also seeks a mitigation plan and a housing or public support plan to ensure social distancing and other public health measures.

The case has been assigned to Judge James S. Gwin.

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