ACLU files temporary restraining order

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2020

38 inmates, 17 staff have tested positive at federal facility

Restraining Order GraphicRestraining Order Graphic

OAKDALE — The ACLU and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has filed a temporary restraining order against a federal correctional facility in Oakdale where six inmates have died after contracting the coronavirus.

The restraining order comes a week after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of six inmates seeking changes at the prison including the release of medically vulnerable inmates and the appointment of a public-health expert to oversee changes at the facility to ensure social distancing, infection prevention and treatment of remaining inmates.

The group contends that so far one inmate has been identified for release at the Oakdale facility, despite an earlier order from U.S. Attorney General William Barr to reduce the prison population.

“The Bureau of Prisons has a fundamental obligation to protect the health and well-being of the people in its custody, and right now it is failing abysmally,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana said in a news release. “Their woefully inadequate response is putting people’s lives and public health at risk. Stronger action must be taken now to avert a humanitarian and public health catastrophe before it’s too late.”

As of Monday, 38 inmates and 17 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Oakdale facility, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

The Bureau of Prisons’ plan to review less than 100 of the men currently incarcerated at Oakdale is “dangerous and immoral,” according to Somil Trivedi, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. About 1,800 inmates are housed at Oakdale facility, which includes two, low-security facilities — Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale I and II.

“Men are sleeping three, four, five to a cell, less than six feet away, and many are reporting that cellmates are coughing through the night,” Trivedi said in the release. “Men, including our clients, have reported being in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases. A slow-moving, minimal review based on flawed criteria will do nothing to fix all of this.

“The only constitutional and medically sound approach involves expedited, responsible release of all medically-vulnerable prisoners to home confinement or other places where they can socially distance, plus appointing a public health expert to oversee internal measures to guarantee that remaining prisoners can socially distance in a clean, safe environment. This socalled plan does none of that — the consequence will be human life.”

The Bureau of Prisons said last week the agency is working to place inmates in facilities hardest hit by the coronavirus on home confinement where appropriate.