Ninth inmate dies of coronavirus at Elkton federal prison in Ohio


By Eric Heisig - cleveland.com (TNS)



CLEVELAND, Ohio — Officials said a ninth inmate from the sole federal prison in Ohio died Friday as the coronavirus spreads throughout the facility.

Michael Brookwalter, 56, visited the health staff at Federal Correctional Institution Elkton on April 6, and was moved to a hospital because he had a fever and wasn’t getting enough oxygen. He tested positive for the coronavirus while hospitalized, according to a news release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

His condition declined while he was in the hospital and medical staff placed him on a ventilator on April 8. Federal Bureau of Prisons says Brookwalter, who was serving a prison sentence of more than 17 years for child sex crimes committed in Illinois, had pre-existing medical conditions that put him at an increased risk of severe illness associated with the coronavirus. He had been at Elkton since September 2018.

He is the ninth inmate since April 2 who has died at the low-security federal prison located in Columbiana County, about 100 miles southeast of Cleveland. The prison has seen more than 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, though advocates worry that’s an undercounted because of a lack of tests.

Ninety-seven inmates at the prison had the virus as of Thursday, as well as 12 staff members, according to the prisons bureau. Officials also said 40 inmates and 40 staff members had recovered.

The prison, which currently houses about 1,960 male inmates at its main facility and 406 at an adjacent lockup, has been a prime example for advocates who have urged county, state and federal officials to reduce the number of inmates. They say the inability to social distance, as well as a lack of quality health care, means the people inside are more at risk of contracting the virus.

A federal judge in Cleveland last month, who was critical of the lack of testing conducted by federal officials, ordered the prisons bureau to identify Elkton inmates who are at serious risk of the coronavirus so they can either be released or moved to another prison. The order came after the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued.

Prison officials identified 837 inmates who are 65 years old or older or had certain pre-existing conditions. Brookwalter was not on that last, though two others who recently died were listed.

The prisons bureau has said it is looking at what it needs to do to comply with the judges order. It has also tried several times to halt the judge’s order but has not been successful.

The judge, James Gwin, denied a motion to stay the order on Friday, noting that “the only recent change is that another inmate has died and more guards and inmates have become infected.” The ACLU has said the prisons bureau has been slow to try to comply with Gwin’s order.

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By Eric Heisig

cleveland.com (TNS)

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