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Court: Prisons bureau failing to comply with FCI Elkton release order

Only about 500 of FCI Elkton's 2,300 inmates have been tested for COVID-19. One in four tests came back positive.
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Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio

CLEVELAND — Of the 837 Federal Correctional Institution Elkton inmates identified as being medically vulnerable to COVID-19, only five have qualified for home confinement under new federal pandemic guidelines.

A federal court order issued Tuesday by Judge James Gwin of the U.S. Northern District calls for the federal Bureau of Prisons to expedite the transfers and releases of those inmates, and revise screening measures making many inmates ineligible for release.

The order states the bureau has, thus far, made "only minimal effort to get at-risk individuals out of harm's way" and cites testing initatives that are progressing slowly at the Lisbon prison.

"The federal government has attempted to stall and delay the release of medically vulnerable individuals at every single turn," David Carey, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said in a Tuesday release. "Lives of prisoners, prison staff and the community depend on swift action to move the most vulnerable people away from the COVID-19 outbreak before it is too late."

On Tuesday, the bureau reported 145 active infections at FCI Elkton, including 137 cases among inmates. Another 63 inmates and 44 employees have been infected and since recovered. Nine inmates have died, which is the highest number of COVID-19 deaths of all federal prisons with confirmed cases, alongside the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Tx.

As of Tuesday, only 524 tests have been performed at the prison, which houses more than 2,300 inmates, according to the court order. About 1 in 4 of those tests came back positive.

The Northern District court last month granted ACLU of Ohio and inmate petitioners a preliminary injunction that ordered identification of inmates who are more than 50 years old or have underlying health conditions and allowed their immediate release, furlough or home confinement.

So far, only five have been approved for home confinement and one has qualified for compassionate release, according to ACLU of Ohio. Those efforts don't comply with the court's previous order, Judge Gwin wrote.

"By thumbing their nose at their authority to authorize home confinement, [bureau officials] threaten staff and they threaten low-security inmates," reads the order.

A bureau spokesperson on Tuesday declined to comment on the order, as the ACLU case is still in active litigation.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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