CLEVELAND — While Elkton federal prison officials continue the slow process of removing more than 830 “medically vulnerable” inmates, an eighth prisoner has died from COVID-19 complications.
In court papers filed Wednesday, attorneys for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons laid out the progress Elkton has made to meet the transfer orders of U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin.
ACLU attorneys in April won an injunction to force the prison to identify medically vulnerable inmates – those over 65 or with severe pre-existing medical issues – and arrange to have them removed, either to another prison, on parole or home confinement. In rare instances, some may be freed.
Elkton is one of the country’s hardest hit prisons in the pandemic. In addition to the eight inmate deaths, 74 are currently in isolation, 19 are hospitalized and seven are on ventilators. In addition, 50 staff members have tested positive.
Inmate James Druggan, 70, died Wednesday at an Elkton area hospital, about a month after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was serving 10 years on child pornography charges, prison officials said.
The prison is in the process now of testing all 2,300 inmates.
The judge this week denied a stay request by the government and said the BOP must move forward to satisfy his order. It is now more clear, however, that his 14-day time limit won’t be met. His decision came two weeks ago.
Prison officials said in court papers that the processing of 837 inmates is a daunting and expensive challenge that cannot be done safety and securely in a tight time frame. Transfers often require air flights or bus transportation. Similar mass moves, specifically one recently made in the aftermath of a tornado, cost the government more than $1 million.
On Wednesday, BOP attorneys filed a status update on the prison’s progress:
The BOP is evaluating 170,000 inmates across the U.S. for home confinement and compassionate release evaluations, and they have sent additional help to Elkton to expedite and satisfy the court order.
So far, Elkton is reporting five are pending for home confinement transfer and 72 are being evaluated.
There have been 243 inmates from the original “medically vulnerable” list that have asked for compassionate release. Just one, however, meets BOP standards, attorneys said.
Compassionate release is designed for inmates in severe poor health. Such releases, according to the BOP, can only be made by the original sentencing judge.
The BOP contends every inmate needs a release plan and they said it’s a tedious, individualized process. Furloughs are being considered for the remainder of inmates on the list, but the BOP cannot grant parole or releases alone.
BOP attorneys said the prison’s COVID-19 response, according to the filing, has seen “positive results” among the inmates. Each inmate has been given surgical masks and testing is ongoing. Many are asymptomatic.
Read the court document below: