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May 12, 2020

Federal judge orders Danbury warden to start "evaluating inmates with COVID-19 risk factors for home confinement and other forms of release"

As reported in this local press piece, a "federal court gave a victory Tuesday night to about 1,000 inmates at the federal prison in Danbury who charged in a class action suit late last month that they are being confined in unconstitutionally dangerous conditions because authorities have failed to release prisoners to home confinement and take other steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the institution."  Here is more about this new ruling:

U.S. District Judge Michael Shea issued an order that gives the prison administration just days to identify inmates with health conditions that place them at risk for COVID-19 complications and to begin aggressively evaluating requests by prisoners for transfer to home confinement or compassionate release.

In his 74-page order, Shea refers to the “apparent failure” of the Danbury administration to carry out an April 3 memo by U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordering the administration at Danbury and other prisons to “maximize” emergency authority granted by Congress to release inmates to home confinement....

In their suit, the Danbury inmates — men and woman confined at three facilities within the larger, low-security institution — complained that the local administration was intentionally dragging its feet on compliance with Barr’s memo and Shea endorsed the complaint in his decision.  The inmates argued — and Shea agreed — that prisoner releases or transfers are necessary to decrease congestion and permit adequate social distancing within the institution.

Shea gave the Danbury administration about 13 days to provide him with a list of inmates eligible for transfer to home release and those who are not. In the case of those denied release, Shea ordered the prison to provide explanations.

The full 74-page ruling is available for download below, and here is how it gets started:

On March 27, 2020, Congress gave federal prison officials an extraordinary tool to confront the extraordinary threat posed by the novel coronavirus within prison walls: the authority to transfer any federal inmate from prison to confinement in his or her home.  A week later, the Attorney General of the United States urged the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to “maximize” the use of that tool as soon as possible, stating in an April 3 memorandum that “[g]iven the speed with which this disease has spread through the general public,” and the Bureau’s “profound obligation to protect the health and safety of all inmates,” “it is clear that time is of the essence.” ECF No. 24-2 at 48-49.  The Attorney General’s memo was triggered by an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution (“FCI Danbury”), a low security prison in Danbury, Connecticut, and two other federal prisons; the memo directed the BOP to “immediately review all inmates who have COVID-19 risk factors” for potential placement in home confinement, “starting with inmates incarcerated at … FCI Danbury” and the other two facilities. Id. at 49.  This case — brought by four inmates at FCI Danbury — involves an apparent failure of the Warden and staff at FCI Danbury to take these exhortations seriously. The four inmates, all of whom have COVID-19 risk factors, have made a preliminary showing that officials at FCI Danbury are making only limited use of their home confinement authority, as well as other tools at their disposal to protect inmates during the outbreak, and that these failures amount to deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to inmates in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  Accordingly, I grant in part the inmates’ motion for a temporary restraining order and issue an order that requires the Warden at FCI Danbury to adopt a process for evaluating inmates with COVID-19 risk factors for home confinement and other forms of release that is both far more accelerated and more clearly focused on the critical issues of inmate and public safety than the current process.  Factual disputes as to other issues the inmates raise preclude me from granting further relief at this time, but I also order an expedited period of discovery and schedule a hearing for June 11, 2020, to adjudicate the inmates’ motion for preliminary injunction.

Download 30 - Order on MTD and TRO

May 12, 2020 at 11:29 PM | Permalink

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