ACLU Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Lompoc Prison Inmates
U.S. Federal Penitentiary at Lompoc (courtesy photo)
By edhat staff
A class-action lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of inmates at the Federal Penitentiary in Lompoc for alleged mistreatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACLU announced the lawsuit on Sunday, stating it has filed two class-action lawsuits in coordination with the Prison Law Office, and the law firm Bird Marella in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of people incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institutions in Lompoc and on Terminal Island in Los Angeles County.
More than 900 inmates in Lompoc have tested positive for COVID-19, that's more than 65% of the total positive test results within Santa Barbara County.
The lawsuit states a series of delays, blunders, and failures to follow guidelines made the situation worse as prison officials refuse to take remedial actions. This lawsuit is based on the violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects against "cruel and unusual punishments."
“Prison officials’ deliberate indifference has endangered the lives of the thousands of people imprisoned in Terminal Island and Lompoc, including those who have high risk health conditions,” said Naeun Rim, a principal with Bird Marella. “Congress gave prisons broad authority to release low risk offenders into home confinement so that it could reduce overcrowding and save lives. But officials failed to use that authority. We will hold them accountable in court.”
The lawsuit argues the prison population should be reduced to allow adequate social distancing and sufficient access to medical care, instead of crowded facilities with communal living. ACLU acknowledged that reducing prison populations is one of the aims of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) signed into law on March 27. This gives broad discretion to allow transfers to home confinement and Attorney General William Barr specifically urged the transfer of people with medical conditions especially vulnerable to the virus.
“While the rest of California took extraordinary measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Bureau of Prisons failed to take preventive measures as basic as isolating sick prisoners, allowing social distancing, or providing enough soap,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “Their deliberate indifference to the risk of disease violates the constitution, and puts both those in prison and the surrounding community at risk.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four inmates, two housed in the Lompoc facility, Yonnedil Torres, 24, and Vincent Reed, 53.
Torres suffers from chronic asthma and during the outbreak, he developed fever, diarrhea, and body aches, but his requests for medical assistance were ignored for five days. Only after he collapsed in his cell with acute respiratory shock was he tested and found to be positive. Torres was put into a medically-induced coma and on a ventilator but has severe lung damage.
Reed has hypertension. After developing symptoms of COVID-19 and testing positive, he was placed in solitary confinement and then transferred to an unsanitary housing unit with others who were infected. He languished there without treatment, then was put back into the general population without being re-tested.
“The Constitution requires that prison officials provide a safe environment for people in their custody,” states Donald Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office. “Not only are these two prisons extremely dangerous, but they confine people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Both lawsuits ask the court to direct the Lompoc and Terminal Island prisons to decarcerate, during the pandemic, people who have vulnerable medical conditions that could lead to serious illness or death from COVID-19 infections. Exceptions would be individuals who pose serious flight risks or danger to others.
For those who remain, the lawsuit asks that the prisons provide adequate spacing for six feet or more of social distancing. It also asks that people receive, without charge, individual supplies of hand soap and paper towels, and access to hand sanitizer, daily showers, and daily clean laundry, plus other measures.
The full lawsuit is available to view here.