COLUMBUS— Today the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a preliminary injunction directing the Bureau of Prisons to identify and transfer elderly and medically vulnerable individuals out of Elkton Federal Correctional Institution to limit their exposure to COVID-19.
The ruling from the three-judge panel comes as the virus is spiking at Elkton. At last count, one of every four people incarcerated have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine people have died.
“Today’s ruling is a major loss for incarcerated people who are at risk from this deadly disease. With hundreds of people currently sick, and nearly everyone else at Elkton exposed, the federal government has a duty to take quick and decisive action. We are very disappointed that the Sixth Circuit failed to recognize the Bureau of Prisons’ conscious refusal to move medically-vulnerable people away from this outbreak as an urgent problem," noted David Carey, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.
"This decision underscores the lack of action and accountability we're seeing from prisons and courts around the country when it comes to intervening to save lives of incarcerated people. While much of the country seems to have moved on from the pandemic, the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are trapped without any way to protect themselves from a virus that they are watching ravage the facilities. The Department of Justice, Attorney General Barr, state officials, and judges across the country have all acknowledged that the situation poses grave risks to those detained, but too few have had the political courage to step in and take the necessary action to save lives. The people incarcerated at Elkton prison are not only worthy of mercy, but also the protections of our constitution, which were designed to avert humanitarian tragedies like this," said David Cole, Legal Director for the ACLU.
"This setback from the courts does not absolve us of our collective moral responsibility to care for people who are incarcerated. To the contrary, it highlights the urgent need for lawmakers to act," added Joe Mead, Cooperating Attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.
"When the government takes away people's liberty, it has a solemn obligation to provide for their safety, including from a highly infectious, potentially fatal disease," said David Singleton, Executive Director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. "We continue to believe that the government officials here fell short of that obligation, and we are saddened by today's decision to the contrary. Prisons are uniquely dangerous places in a time of COVID-19, and Elkton has become a uniquely dangerous prison for the low-security, medically vulnerable prisoners there."