ACLU petitions for Elkton inmates to be released in light of virus outbreak

Coronavirus

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to grow at the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Columbiana County

ELKTON, Ohio (WYTV) – On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a class action petition to release inmates at the federal prison in Columbiana County.

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to grow at the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution, action is being taken.

The ACLU and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center filed the class action habeas petition on behalf of prisoners, who are at grave risk from the virus.

Read entire petition

Noelle Beltran’s cousin is an inmate there.

“It wasn’t surprising, but I was excited when I read it,” she said.

On Monday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported 24 inmates and 15 staff members at Elkton have tested positive for COVID-19. Four inmates have died.

Inmate Alvin Turner reported to the Health Services Department on Friday. He was evaluated and taken to a local hospital for further treatment due to the inability to maintain an oxygen saturation and noted bilateral pneumonia, a release said.

While at the hospital, Turner tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a release, his condition declined on Monday and he was placed on a ventilator. Turner had long-term pre-existing medical conditions and he died later that day.

Joseph Mayle, union president at Elkton, gave higher numbers on Tuesday. He said 22 staff members have tested positive. He said 49 inmates are in isolation, 34 are in the hospital and 17 are on a ventilator.

“It’s lives that matter. All of them. The prisoners, yours, mine, the staff that’s there doing their job,” Beltran said.

ACLU of Ohio’s 38-page petition calls for the release of three specific inmates who are at risk of severe illness or death if they get COVID-19.

One woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, is the wife of an Elkton inmate. She’s concerned many other inmates other than those three are at risk, too.

“You’re going there to pay for your mistake and then come back home to your family, not sit there and let some virus kill you,” she said.

On April 3, U.S. Attorney General William Barr recognized the crisis at Elkton and issued a memo to the Bureau of Prisons, suggesting the release of vulnerable prisoners to home confinement. No such action has been taken yet.

Beltran’s cousin, Benny, is set to be released in just a few months. She thinks this process is taking the federal government too long and hopes the ACLU’s petition will speed it up.

“If I could say anything to the Elkton facility, it would be that I not only care about my cousin, I care about you guys,” Beltran said.

The Bureau of Prisons would not comment Monday on the ACLU matter because it is currently under litigation. It did release the following statement:

“Given the surge in positive cases in Columbiana County and the growing number of quarantine, isolation and positive cases at FCI Elkton, OH, the health commissioner of the Columbiana County Health District assisted in coordinating additional medical resources.

Together, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio National Guard are providing 32 medical care providers to include physicians, mid-level providers, medics, phlebotomists and radiology technicians.

They are utilizing an in-patient bridge unit that will be able to provide lab testing, portable x-rays and in-patient care to the inmates. This will enable us to decrease the number of inmates requiring transport to the local hospital, thus alleviating pressure on the local hospitals’ available bed space.

Guardsmen and women are deploying solely to assist with medical care at the prison. The BOP very much appreciates the assistance of and coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio National Guard in providing this additional medical support to FCI Elkton.

The CDC and the Louisiana Office of Public Health commended FCI Oakdale staff and confirmed their compliance with current CDC guidance for COVID management in correctional facilities, which is the same guidance being followed by all BOP institutions, including FCI Elkton.

I am pleased to provide you with the following additional information about how we are managing our institutions, including Elkton, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BOP is carefully monitoring the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As with any type of emergency situation, we carefully assess how to best ensure the safety of staff, inmates and the public. Elkton, as well as all other BOP institutions, is implementing the BOP’s guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. That guidance can be found at https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp.

The BOP has instituted a comprehensive management approach that includes screening, testing, appropriate treatment, prevention, education and infection control measures. The BOP has been coordinating our COVID-19 efforts since January 2020, using subject-matter experts both internal and external to the agency, including guidance and directives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Vice President.

Using the Incident Command System (ICS) framework, we developed and implemented an incident action plan that addressed our Continuity of Operations Program (COOP), supply management, inmate movement, inmate visitation and official staff travel, as well as other important aspects. Our central and regional offices and the National Institute of Corrections continue to coordinate planning and guidance with state and local prisons and jails.

The first phases of our nationwide action plan were vital steps essential to slowing the spread of the virus. These actions included establishing a task force to begin strategic planning and building on our already existing procedures for managing pandemics. We started limiting facility-to-facility transfers and other inmate movement, as well as implementing screening, quarantine and isolation procedures. In addition, we suspended social and legal visits, canceled staff training and travel, limited access for contractors and volunteers, and established enhanced screening for staff and inmates, including temperature checks. We began inventorying sanitation, cleaning and medical supplies, and procuring additional supplies of these items. All of these actions were carried out with the goal of reducing the risk of introducing and spreading the virus inside our facilities.

All BOP institutions were on enhanced modified operations as of April 1, 2020 under Phase 5 of our action plan (https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/pdfs/20200331_press_release_action_plan_5.pdf). This action was taken as a means to further mitigate exposure and spread of COVID-19 at the facility. Enhanced modified operations are not a lockdown, but rather a means to minimize inmate movement, to minimize congregate gathering and maximize social distancing among the inmate population. Under enhanced modified operations, inmates are limited in their movements within the institution, with inmate movement in small numbers authorized for access to commissary, laundry, showers, telephone and electronic messaging access, medical and mental health care, and some essential work details or work assignments. Symptomatic inmates are not placed on any work details or work assignments. Just like in communities nationwide who have been required to shelter-in-place, the BOP implemented this course of action to mitigate the spread of the virus.

We realize that suspending social visiting has an impact on inmates and their loved ones, but our primary purpose in doing so is to help keep them and the community safe. In order to compensate for the absence of in-person visits, we increased monthly telephone minutes for all inmates from 300 to 500 in recognition of how important it is for families to stay in touch during this time. Telephone calls are free to inmates for the duration of this emergency (collect calls will still be charged to the receiving phone number). Inmate mail is being distributed daily.

During this time, access to legal counsel remains a paramount requirement but, like social visiting, the BOP needs to reduce the risk of exposure created by external visitors. As such, while in general, legal visits are suspended for 30 days, case-by-case accommodation will be accomplished at the local level and confidential legal calls will be allowed in order to ensure inmates maintain access to counsel. Also, inmates still have the ability to observe faith traditions, although they may be modified to allow for social distancing or other health precautions.

With respect to inmate movement generally, Bureau movement nationwide is down 92% from this time last year and this is directly a result of steps we have taken as we have implemented our COVID-19 pandemic plan. However, the Bureau is required to accept inmates awaiting trial remanded to our custody. We must also accept newly-convicted inmates for service of their sentence. This requirement is based in federal statute (see the Bail Reform Act, Title 18 U.S.C. § 3141); if a federal judge orders a pre-trial offender to be detained, the federal government, which includes Bureau facilities, must assume custody and care of the inmate. To be clear, while the Bureau can control and limit its intra-agency movements, we have no authority to refuse inmates brought to us by the USMS.

Effective March 26, the Bureau issued guidance that all newly-admitted inmates into the Bureau were screened and temperature checked by employees wearing PPE, to include surgical masks, face shields/goggles, gloves and gowns in accordance with CDC guidance. At this time, the CDC does not recommend universal testing to screen for COVID-19 in asymptomatic individuals. If an inmate is asymptomatic, they are placed in quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. If symptomatic for COVID-19, the inmate must be placed in isolation until they test negative for COVID-19 or are cleared by medical staff as meeting CDC criteria for release from isolation. All institutions, including Lompoc, have areas set aside for quarantining and isolation. Symptomatic or positive staff self-quarantine at their homes. Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determines they require hospitalization.  All symptomatic inmates are treated per CDC guidelines.

Staff, contractors and other visitors to the institution also must undergo a screening and temperature check by a staff member or contractor wearing appropriate PPE prior to entering the facility, with those who register a temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit or higher denied access to the building. Due to the critical role our staff plays with regard to public safety, we have developed a template to provide to staff members who are in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual to seek to ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing.

All inmates releasing or transferring from BOP facilities to the community will be placed in quarantine for 14 days prior to their scheduled departure from the institution. This includes, but is not limited to, Full Term releases, Good Conduct Time releases, releases to detainers, furloughs and transfers to Residential Reentry Centers/Home Confinement. If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution will notify the local health authorities in the location where the inmate is releasing. Transportation that will minimize exposure will be used and inmates will be supplied a mask to wear.

As a nationwide system, we are able to leverage and transfer resources from institutions without incidences of COVID-19 to institutions with greater need. Soap is available throughout the institutions and in cells, and inmates have been educated on CDC guidelines for hand washing, coughing/sneezing in sleeve or tissue and no physical contact. Additionally, staff, including all executive staff and department heads, are making frequent rounds throughout housing units, door-to-door, conducting wellness checks and if an inmate reports feeling ill, he/she is immediately screened by health services personnel. Inmates presenting as symptomatic are isolated in accordance with CDC and public health directives. Testing may be performed as clinically warranted.

Sanitation efforts continue across all institutions. All cleaning, sanitation and medical supplies have been inventoried at the BOP’s facilities and currently, an ample supply is on hand and ready to be distributed or moved to any facility as deemed necessary. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, the BOP updates and refines its recommendations based on CDC guidance and protocols, and will continue to provide helpful information to staff, inmates and federal, state, and local partners.

As much as possible, staff are being assigned to the same posts and not rotating as an additional measure to mitigate the spread of the virus. The BOP is not testing staff as part of our staff screening program. It is not recommended by the CDC as there is not sufficient scientific data to support screening for disease in asymptomatic people.

The BOP has personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and is utilizing them in accordance with CDC guidance. As has been made clear by the CDC, supplies of PPE and prudence dictate that equipment is used to optimize the limited supply (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/index.html) available in both the private and public sectors.

Guidance as to where and when PPE, such as N95 masks, should be worn have been provided to all sites, is consistent with CDC guidance and depends on several factors, including whether or not an institution has an active case and each employee’s job description. As noted by the CDC’s and OSHA guidance, there are several types of respiratory masks, as well as surgical face masks; certain masks are appropriate and effective in certain scenarios and not in others. Some scenarios would require an employee to wear an N95 mask and others where it would not be necessary. Guidance on what types of PPE is necessary and under what circumstances is available here: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/index.html. Staff working in areas of isolation and quarantining are required to wear full PPE.

In response to the April 3 updated guidance from the CDC, we issued surgical masks to everyone – staff and inmates – in our prisons. Federal Prison Industries factories have begun production on cloth face coverings for our staff and inmate population, non-surgical medical gowns for medical facilities and packaging hand sanitizer for use within the Bureau and other agencies. We will distribute the cloth face coverings as they are produced to preserve surgical masks for quarantine and screening purposes with the goal being, consistent with CDC guidance, to limit transmission of coronavirus by “asymptomatic” or “pre-symptomatic” persons when social distancing cannot be achieved.

Since the release of Attorney General Barr’s original memo to the BOP on March 26, 2020 instructing us to prioritize home confinement as an appropriate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BOP has placed an additional 1019 inmates on home confinement. On April 3, the Attorney General exercised emergency authority under the CARES Act to further increase home confinement.

Given the surge in positive cases at select sites and in response to the Attorney General’s directives, the BOP has begun immediately reviewing all inmates who have COVID-19 risk factors, as described by the CDC, starting with the inmates incarcerated at FCI Oakdale, FCI Danbury, FCI Elkton and similarly-situated facilities to determine which inmates are suitable for home confinement.

Inmates do not need to apply to be considered for home confinement. Case management staff are urgently reviewing all inmates to determine which ones meet the criteria established by the Attorney General. The Department of Justice has also increased resources to review and make appropriate determinations as soon as possible. While all inmates are being reviewed for suitability, any inmate who believes they are eligible may request to be referred to Home Confinement and provide a release plan to their case manager. The BOP may contact family members to gather needed information when making decisions concerning Home Confinement placement.

Guidance related to the BOP’s use of Home Confinement in response to Attorney General Barr’s original memo to the Bureau of Prisons on March 26, 2020 instructing the BOP to prioritize home confinement as an appropriate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to include an updated number of inmates placed on home confinement status as a result of this memorandum, may be found here: https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/20200405_covid19_home_confinement.jsp. We are urgently reviewing all inmates to determine which ones meet the criteria to be suitable for home confinement as established by the Attorney General.

For more information about COVID-19, to include the BOP’s COVID-19 Action Plan, the number of COVID-19 related deaths and open, positive test COVID-19 cases for staff and inmates, please visit the BOP’s Coronavirus resource page on our public website, https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this public health crisis, the BOP will update this dashboard daily, based on the most recently available data from across the agency as reported by the BOP’s Office of Occupational Health and Safety. The number of open positive test cases reflects current cases that have not been resolved.

When a COVID-19 related inmate death occurs and next of kin have been notified, additional information will be posted to our public website found here: https://www.bop.gov/resources/press_releases.jsp. Please note, the situation is very fluid and we are constantly updating this information. We recommend you visit the site frequently.

We understand these are stressful times for both staff and inmates. The local Crisis Support Team (CST) has been activated at many BOP facilities, checking on the welfare of staff. On Friday, April 3, 2020, BOP activated a nationwide 24-hour support line for all staff. The support line offers an outlet for staff to openly and anonymously discuss their concerns, receive support and engage in problem-solving. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is offered in coordination with Federal Occupational Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, is also available to staff. EAP provides free confidential counseling services via licensed, certified professional counselors. EAP services are available 24 hours a day for staff and their families.

We are deeply concerned for the health and welfare of those inmates who are entrusted to our care and for our staff, their families and the communities we live and work in. It is our highest priority to continue to do everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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