FCI Elkton COVID-19 Cases Among Highest in Prisons

LISBON, Ohio — As of Tuesday, the number of positive cases among staff members at the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton has increased to 46, up from 38 on Monday.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, FCI Elkton has the highest number of staff cases among the affected 61 federal prisons and residential reentry centers in the country. It also has 52 positive inmate cases, with is the fourth highest number of inmates testing positive in federal prison.

Of those inmates, 25 are hospitalized, 12 of whom are on ventilators, reported Joseph Mayle, union president at FCI Elkton. Another 100 inmates are currently quarantined with 50 in isolation.

With six inmate deaths from COVID-19, Elkton is second only to the federal prison in Oakdale, La., where seven inmates have died from the virus, according to the prison bureau.

To date, 22 inmates have died because of COVID-19, all of whom had pre-existing medical conditions, according to the bureau.

A report by the Associated Press found inmates make up nearly one in four of Ohio’s coronavirus cases. Those numbers were driven by a spike in identified infections following universal testing in three state prisons, including FCI Elkton.

On April 19, reports showed 1,828 positive tests at the Marion Correctional Facility, out of about 2,500 total inmates, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. In addition, 109 employees at Marion have tested positive, out of a total of about 350 workers, which includes about 295 guards. One Marion prison guard died earlier this month, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier this month, four inmates at FCI Elkton joined the ACLU in filing a lawsuit aimed at getting them released. Inmates provided detailed descriptions of life inside the prison, arguing their Eighth Amendment constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment are being infringed upon, and that Elkton has “neither the capacity nor ability to comply with public health guidelines to manage the outbreak of COVID-19 and cannot provide for the safety of the prisoners.”

The lawsuit is asking the Federal Bureau of Prisons to identify, within six hours of a court order, a list of all medically vulnerable inmates and to release all such persons within 24 hours or to show just cause why that shouldn’t happen.

In a written statement to inmate families and friends Tuesday, Michael Carvajal, director of the Bureau of Prisons, outlined measures the bureau is taking to “ensure the safety, security and orderly operation of 122 federal prisons, as well as the safety and security of approximately 36,000 staff and more than 170,000 federal inmates, including those housed in privately managed or community-based facilities.”

To help compensate for the halting of social visits, monthly phone minutes have been increased and free phone and video calls have been approved, though collect calls are still charged accordingly, Carvajal wrote.

Individuals entering any bureau buildings, including staff, are screened and have their temperature checked. As of April 1, all inmates have been secured in their assigned cells or quarters to decrease the spread of coronavirus, he wrote. The shelter-in-place order will remain in effect until May 18, at which time it will be re-evaluated.

“Again, we did not make this decision lightly, and I know it can be difficult for everyone,” Carvajal wrote. “But just like in communities nationwide who have been required to shelter in place, we feel the safest course to prevent the spread of the virus is to have inmates shelter in place as well.”

In institutions with active COVID-19 transmission, all inmates are served meals in their units, he added. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also encouraged all correctional and detention centers to issue and have staff and inmates wear appropriate face coverings when in public places and when social distancing can’t be achieved.

In response to U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s authorization to use home confinement, the bureau is “aggressively screening all inmates who have COVID-19 risk factors for suitability, starting with inmates incarcerated at facilities with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases,” Carvajal said. Since the authorization, the bureau has reviewed thousands of cases and placed more than 1,300 inmates on home confinement, he said.

Jeremy Lydic and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.