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Federal Judge Criticizes 'Poor Progress' In Releasing Inmates From Elkton Prison

Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio.
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution, Ohio's only federal prison, must begin releasing inmates to help with social distancing behind bars. 

U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin wrote that Elkton has made "minimal effort" to protect at-risk inmates, following last month's order that prison officials identify and transfer inmates due to the spread of COVID-19.

Nine inmates have died of COVID-19 at the prison, while 137 inmates and eight staff members have tested positive.

Gwin writes the "poor progress" in transferring inmates is especially concerning due to the nature of the facility - Elkton is a low-security prison.

"Against a backdrop where approximately one out of every four Elkton inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, the [prison system] must move inmates out," the ruling reads. "By thumbing their nose at their authority to authorize home confinement, Respondents threaten staff and they threaten low security inmates."

The order came in response to a class action lawsuit from the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. In April, Gwin ordered Elkton officials to evaluate medically vulnerable inmates, especially those with heart, pulmonary, diabetes or immunity risks, for possible early release or transfers to other prisons.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons then created a list of 837 inmates vulnerable to COVID-19, out of a total population of 2,357. But the government only identified six who it said were eligible for home confinement, and none for transfers to other facilities - and no inmates have been released yet.

Gwin ordered that Elkton officials eliminate any requirement that the inmate serve some part of his sentence to be eligible for home confinement, disregard low- or moderate-severity incident reports, and disregard violence offense restrictions for inmates with convictions more than five years ago, and eliminate the requirement that the inmate be a U.S. citizen.

Elkton officials must report back on their progress by May 21.