BOP Appeals Order to ID, Possibly Release ‘Vulnerable’ Elkton Inmates

CLEVELAND – The warden of the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution and the director of the Federal Bureau of Prison Monday appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court the preliminary injunction handed down April 22 by U.S. Judge James S. Gwin that ordered Elkton officials to identify all medically vulnerable prisoners, and evaluate their eligibility for transfer out of the Columbiana County prison.

The appeal was filed by assistant U.S. attorneys James R. Bennett II and Sara DeCaro on behalf of Mark Williams, the warden, and Michael Carvajal, FBOP director.

The appeal came on the same day that Gwin held a status video conference that lasted 35 minutes, according to the case docket. The judge subsequently denied a motion filed by the Elkton warden that sought to keep under court seal “the list of inmates who have been identified by age and/or underlying medical condition as being at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.”

Attorneys for the four inmates – Craig Wilson, Eric Bellamy, Kendal Nelson and Maximino Nieves — named as plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit filed April 13 by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that neither they nor inmates and their families would be “in a position to assess if any individuals have been wrongly left off the list.” Nor would they be able to contest the criteria for evaluating inmates if the court sealed such information.

Judge Gwin agreed and directed the parties to file any legal objections to his order by noon April 30.

In handing down the preliminary injunction, the judge ordered Elkton officials to evaluate every inmate’s “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.”

Inmates ineligible for any of those options must be transferred to another federal prison where appropriate pandemic-related measures may be accomplished, he added.

The Elkton prison houses about 2,400 inmates. Seven inmates have died from COVID-19.

The FBOP’s latest report, updated at 3 p.m. Sunday, showed 51 Elkton inmates and 48 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Joseph Mayle, president of the Elkton prison’s Law Enforcement Officers Union, as of this morning 23 inmates remain hospitalized, with eight on ventilators; 88 in quarantine; 32 in isolation; and 49 staff members testing positive for coronavirus.

Meanwhile, today U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) sent a letter urging Attorney General William Barr and BOP Director Carvajal to increase COVID-19 testing at Elkton.

As of this week, FCI Elkton will begin receiving 100 tests a week, Portman said, but is only testing inmates showing symptoms of the coronavirus. Since asymptomatic carriers can also transmit the virus, without widespread testing of prisoners, it will be impossible to isolate all COVID-19 carriers and the virus will continue to spread.

“The lack of sufficient COVID-19 testing at FCI Elkton is unacceptable.  It threatens the lives of the FCI Elkton inmates as well as Ohioans in the greater northeast Ohio region,” wrote Portman. “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.”  

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