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Federal Judge: BOP Exercising “Reasonable Efforts” Against Coronavirus at NC Prison

BOP argued that it had stepped up sanitation, screening prisoners and staff and quarantining positive prisoners. Calling those “reasonable efforts” in “preventing unnecessary illness and death and slowing the spread of the virus,” Judge Louise W. Flanagan denied a May 26, 2020, petition the prisoners had filed seeking a writ of habeas corpus and a class-action request for declaratory and injunctive relief.

As of June 12, 2020, FCC Butner had reported positive coronavirus test results for 910 prisoners and 55 staff members. Since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020, 18 prisoners and a staff member have died from the disease. The majority of cases were at the prison’s low security complex, with 675 prisoners and 17 staff experience active cases. But at least two cases were reported in each of the complex’s four prisons.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs argued that the 4,438 men at FCC Butner “are crammed into a space meant for no more than 3,998,” with symptomatic infected prisoners “housed alongside those with no symptoms.” The result, they alleged, was a dire situation that was “urgent” because prison officials had “failed to implement effective isolation, quarantine, testing, screening, hygiene, and disinfecting policies or meaningfully modify movement protocols for staff and incarcerated people.”

Pursuant to a Justice Department directive, 932 prisoners were reviewed for possible release, with 42 released to home confinement, nine placed in residential re-entry centers, and 48 more prisoners awaiting approval for one of the two options. Since March 2020, another 56 prisoners have been granted early release by sentencing judges.

“While we are disappointed by this decision, we are weighing all options given that 19 lives have already been lost and many more remain on the line,” said Emily Harwell, a senior staff attorney for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties who was one of the attorneys representing the prisoners. See: Hallinan v. Scarantino, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103409. 

 

Related legal case

Hallinan v. Scarantino