A chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of inmates at a federal prison in Lompoc over the ongoing health crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
In a 189-page document filed in federal court earlier this month, staff attorneys with the ACLU argue conditions inside the federal prison coupled with the viral pandemic amount to cruel and unusual punishment, which violates inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights.
The pleading reveals horrific details of what is allegedly taking place inside the Lompoc prison during the crisis. One asthmatic inmate who reportedly showed symptoms of COVID-19 was “ignored for days and denied medical treatment,” the ACLU alleges, while another inmate who is scheduled to be released later this year is being forced to spend the remainder of his sentenced in “a hastily converted warehouse where he is locked in his cell and not even allowed to shower.”
The Lompoc facility has been one of the hardest hit in Bureau of Prisons system since government officials formally recognized the health crisis in early March. To date, more than 900 inmates at Lompoc’s low-security prison have tested positive for the virus, while another 112 have tested positive at an adjacent high-security penitentiary, according to data released by federal prison officials.
Between the two facilities, nearly 20 inmates have died, the data shows.
Prison officials contend inmates are receiving medical screening and care throughout their facilities, but the ACLU said that hasn’t been the case for some inmates at the Lompoc facilities. In one case, an inmate tested positive only to be locked in administrative segregation where he was denied medical attention for days, the ACLU says.
To make matters worse, while some prisons have increased phone call allowances to make up for a lack of in-person visitation during the crisis, staff at the Lompoc prisons have restricted access to institutional phones and email services, which has made it difficult for inmates to contact their families and lawyers, the ACLU says.
“Respondents and their ineffectual and unnecessarily cruel policy of isolating positive cases in solitary confinement and unsanitary makeshift living spaces has completely failed to stop or even slow the spread of the virus,” the ACLU wrote in their lawsuit. Making matters worse, the ACLU says, around 2,000 inmates still have yet to be tested at the higher-security penitentiary despite the mass outbreak at the adjacent low-security facility.
The ACLU says it is not seeking the release of any inmates connected to the lawsuit. Instead, the lawsuit is seeking an order that would require prison officials at Lompoc to expeditiously review inmates that may be eligible for home confinement, implement social distancing measures and provide adequate medical care to inmates at the prison facilities there, among other things.
The lawsuit names Lompoc Warden Louis Milusnic and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal as defendants in the suit. A similar lawsuit was filed simultaneously against the warden of the Terminal Island prison near Los Angeles.