Judge Orders Elkton Prison to Remove Vulnerable Inmates

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Federal Bureau of Prisons has one day to identify inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton who are 65 or older and have pre-existing health conditions associated with higher risk for COVID-19.

U.S. Judge James Gwin handed down an injunction earlier today that granted in part an emergency petition filed April 13 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four inmates at the federal prison in Columbiana County. In his ruling, he described as “a debacle” the Elkton prison’s testing to date for coronavirus.

“Following identification, the court orders [BOP] to evaluate each subclass member’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,” the judge wrote.

“In undertaking this evaluation [the BOP] will prioritize the review by the medical threat level. For example, older inmates with heart, pulmonary, diabetes or immunity risks should receive review priority over [other inmates] who are younger.”

Elkton officials are ordered to “evaluate each subclass member’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, the judge said.

In a 38-page ruling, Gwin contrasted the Federal Bureau of Prisons with what the state of Ohio has done in its prisons.

“The state of Ohio has tested its prisoners en masse for COVID-19. At Marion [Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio] 1,950 inmates tested positive for COVID-19. This number includes large numbers of inmates who were asymptomatic and would otherwise not have been tested,” he wrote.

“Everything suggests that if BOP tested as [Ohio] commendably has, results would show that the virus has become equally widespread within Elkton. However, without testing there is no way to know how many Elkton inmates have the virus.

“The Ohio prisons virus response undercuts BOP’s ability to argue that testing is either unavailable or is impossible. Why has the Justice Department allocated Elkton an entirely insignificant number of tests while Ohio has been able to pull off mass testing across not only Marion, but at multiple institutions?,” he asked.

The Elkton prison houses about 2,400 inmates.

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.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.