CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal appeals court on Monday refused to overturn a judge’s order forcing the Bureau of Prisons to move medically vulnerable inmates out of the Elkton prison where a coronavirus outbreak has left seven inmates dead and infected dozens of other prisoners and staff.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office failed to show that releasing or relocating the more than 800 prisoners from the Columbiana County facility would cause irreparable harm to the government, the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court held.
The ruling comes days before the deadline that U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin in Cleveland set for the prison to comply with his April 22 order to identify inmates 65 years and older, and those with certain pre-existing conditions that could leave them vulnerable to serious illness associated with the virus, and either release them or move them to other prisons.
Gwin’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to reduce the population at the low-security, 2,400-capacity prison, which is about 100 miles southeast of Cleveland. The ACLU said the prison system did not take proper precautions to protect the inmates and that the resulting spread amounted to a violation of the inmates’ constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
The facility is home to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks of any federal facility in the United States and has been highlighted as an example of how quickly the virus can spread in dormitory-style prisons, where inmates live close together in open spaces.
U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman’s office appealed both Gwin’s order to identify and release publicly the inmates eligible for release under his order as well as the order itself on behalf of the prison’s warden, who is the named defendant in the ACLU’s lawsuit. The Sixth Circuit on Thursday rejected the appeal over the list, and the prison bureau minutes later released the list of 837 inmates eligible.
The list includes Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who is serving a 28-year sentence for corruption and fraud and according to his attorneys has been in poor health for years.
Fyre Festival mogul Billy McFarland, who is serving six years for fraud, is not on the list. McFarland, 28, asked a judge to release him and claims he has several ailments that put him at risk, though the Justice Department says no such ailments were documented.