ELKTON, Ohio — A court battle to move medically compromised inmates out of the Elkton federal prison is at a crossroads.
A federal appeals court has shot down a lower court judge’s order ruling that required Elkton prison officials to transfer more than 830 inmates out of the low-security prison where nine inmates have died with COVID-19.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, agreed with attorneys for the Bureau of Prisons that Judge James Gwin’s mandate compromised public safety, and that the process of transferring inmates quickly was difficult.
The court found no evidence that the prison “was deliberately indifferent to the serious risk of harm presented by COVID-19…”
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, the group that sued the prison on behalf of inmates, have yet to announce if they will further appeal.
Attorney David Carey said the ACLU was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling and the prison’s slow processing efforts. He warned that the appellate decision “does not mean it’s over.” The ACLU could seek an appeal to the full appellate court, or try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For now, the prison continues to test its 2,300 inmates. According to court records filed Thursday, 1,829 inmates have been tested in the past several weeks, and 310 were found to be positive. More inmates have previously tested positive, bringing the total number to 439, according to the BOP website.
The list of positive COVID-19 cases includes former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who is serving a 28-year sentence for corruption charges. Dimora has been held in isolation since his diagnosis late last month. His attorneys have failed in their efforts to convince the prison to allow Dimora to recover at home.
Since the wave of cases, the prison began stopping visitors and prisoner transfers and arrivals, provided inmates with PPE supplies, and restricted their movement. No Elkton inmate has died since May 8, and hospitalizations have decreased dramatically since the initial wave in April.