Court Battles

Judge says Ohio prison is fighting a ‘losing battle’ to coronavirus, orders inmates’ release, transfer

Greg Nash

A U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday that inmates deemed to be at risk of infection from the novel coronavirus be released from a federal prison in Ohio that the judge said is fighting a “losing battle” against the virus.

Judge James Gwin wrote in his opinion that a lack of available coronavirus testing combined with the close proximity in which inmates at the facility live meant that stopping the spread of the virus is unlikely.

“[T]he Elkton officials fight a losing battle. A losing battle for staff. A losing battle for inmates,” Gwin wrote. “To date, Elkton has received only 50 COVID-19 swab tests and one Abbott Rapid testing machine with 25 rapid tests. Most swab tests have already been used. Because the Department of Justice has given [the Bureau of Prisons] BOP so few tests, Elkton medical staff has needed to triage test usage.”

Gwin ordered Justice Department officials to identify elderly and other at-risk inmates within 24 hours, and develop plans to secure their release through programs such as parole. Those who cannot be released will be transferred to other prisons.

“Following identification, the Court orders Respondents 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 nontransfer furlough within two (2) weeks,” the judge wrote.

It was unclear how many inmates would be affected, but Politico reported the number to be in the hundreds. Approximately 2,500 inmates are incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution, Elkton, according to the court documents.

A request for comment from the Justice Department was not immediately returned.

Tags Coronavirus federal prisons

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