‘Dozens of Prisons’ Targeted in COVID-19 Civil Rights Lawsuits

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Illustration courtesy of the Prison Policy Initiative.

An inmate housed at FCI Danbury in Connecticut said she exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, but had to beg for an ambulance. At the hospital, she recalled being monitored by officers 24 hours a day, denied a change of clothes, and treated “like an animal,” ABC News recently reported.

A correctional officer at FCI Jessup, near Atlanta, Ga., returned from travel and was told to quarantine for 14 days. However, she says, the facility called her back to work just one week later, forcing her to risk infecting inmates or use her personal time to take off.

Stories like these constitute some of the many criticisms leveled against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), state prisons, and county jails in the era of the coronavirus, according to an Expert Institute article.

As a result of their delayed and inadequate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, dozens of county jails and state and federal prisons now face civil rights lawsuits, writes Carolyn Casey, the author of the article.

Many of the lawsuits filed by inmates, advocates and prison staff argue that correctional authorities’ response to COVID-19 has been defined by inaction.

The consequences of this inaction speak for themselves.

Sixty-one-year-old Leonard Carter was at the Queensboro Correctional Facility in New York City when he was granted parole in January. Six weeks from his release date, he died of COVID-19 in mid-April.

As of July 6, there were 19 outbreaks of COVID-19 across all correctional facilities in North Carolina.

In just one housing unit at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, 45 inmates tested positive for the illness, The Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, more than 500 women tested positive at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Fort Worth, Tx.

The Legal Battles

Lawsuits have now been filed in a number of jurisdictions.

In Louisiana, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Louisiana, and Katten, Muchin, Rosenman, LLP filed a lawsuit against the warden of the Oakdale Federal Detention Centers, Rodney Myers, and BOP director Michael Carvajal.

The suit, filed on behalf of the inmates housed at the Centers, seeks the release of prisoners who are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.

In Connecticut, a similar lawsuit was filed on behalf of the entire state’s incarcerated population.

In Chicago, Il., Jeffrey Pendleton, a 59-year-old inmate at Cook County Jail, tested positive for COVID-19. A lawsuit filed by his family claims that he died while shackled “by hand and foot” to a hospital bed and that his constitutional rights were violated as a result, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

In Pittsburgh, Pa., three inmates housed in the Allegheny County Jail filed a lawsuit against Allegheny County and warden Orlando Harper.

The complaint alleges that the jail has not taken steps to limit double-occupancy cells nor maintain low inmate-occupancy in the facility’s common spaces.

As of July 21, approximately 70,700 individuals behind bars have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 700 have died from it, according to The Marshall Project.

These figures marked a 10 percent increase from the week prior.

With an ever-increasing caseload and death toll behind bars, more litigation against jails and prisons is sure to come.

Editor’s Note: For additional information on the intersection between criminal justice and COVID-19, please see The Crime Report’s resource page on “COVID-19.”

See also: “COVID-19 Prison Infections 5.5 Times Higher Than National Rate: Study” by TCR Staff, The Crime Report, July 14, 2020

Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

One thought on “‘Dozens of Prisons’ Targeted in COVID-19 Civil Rights Lawsuits

  1. Thank you for this article. Is anyone suing on behalf of the non-violent women in Carswell? Most of these women are from the Fort worth area which is overrun by the Federal Government and their “ghost dope” charges—meaning they are in there after being forced to plead guilty on statements only or risk 40 years in trial. From people who actually got caught with drugs. They are all non-violent and received at least 5-35 years in prison. All if these inmates should be released, since they shouldn’t be in there to begin with. Yes! Our Fed. Gov. Prosecutes and adds drugs amounts by words only, then has the nerve to add enhancements with no drugs or transactions ever found.

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