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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Coronavirus-Related Transfer Of Elkton Inmates

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has blocked a lower court’s order to remove hundreds of inmates vulnerable to COVID-19 from Elkton federal prison.

The ACLU of Ohio is considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had previously blocked the transfer of inmates until the circuit court made its ruling.

The decision released Tuesday said steps taken by prison officials to protect inmates from the coronavirus were enough to overturn a Cleveland judge’s April order.

The opinion’s author, U.S. District Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, agreed with part of the ACLU of Ohio’s argument:

“The transmissibility of the COVID-19 virus in conjunction with Elkton’s dormitory-style housing — which places inmates within feet of each other — and the medically-vulnerable subclass’s health risks, presents a substantial risk that petitioners at Elkton will be infected with COVID-19 and have serious health effects as a result, including, and up to, death,” wrote Gibbons.

But she ultimately sided with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which argued it had in place an effective series of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Here, even if the BOP’s response has been inadequate, it has not disregarded a known risk or failed to take any steps to address the risk,” Gibbons wrote.

ACLU of Ohio attorney David Carey said while prison officials responded to the pandemic, the measures were clearly not enough to prevent an outbreak inside the prison, “and were not compatible with the CDC’s guidelines that stated that the cornerstone of any respiratory disease response needs to be social distancing."

The prison’s action plan included stopping visitors and prisoner transfers, expanded testing, restricted movement in the prison and increased cleaning. Despite those measures, there are 439 confirmed, active coronavirus cases among Elkton inmates and nine deaths.

Prison officials resisted transferring prisoners out of Elkton, saying they posed a risk to public safety and transfers between prisons are too burdensome.

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