More than 900 people incarcerated in Lompoc have tested positive for the virus — that’s more than 65% of positive tests in all of Santa Barbara County where the prison facilities are located.
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. Their deliberate indifference to the risk of disease violates the Constitution and puts both those in prison and the surrounding community at risk.
The only true remedy is to reduce the prison populations to allow for adequate social distancing and sufficient access to medical care during the pandemic. That’s impossible under current conditions in these crowded low- and medium-security facilities where much of daily life — including meals and lining up for medical care — is communal, and bunk beds are only three-to-four feet apart.
This class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of several named plaintiffs, including:
- Yonnedil Torres, 24, who suffers from chronic asthma. During the COVID-19 outbreak in the prison 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.
- Vincent Reed, 53, who 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.
We ask the court to direct the Lompoc 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 Court issued a preliminary injunction and ordered the Bureau of Prisons to institute a process by which it must consider for home confinement prisoners who are over the age of 50 or who have at least one health condition that puts them at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 complications. This is a great victory for many at Lompoc, but the fight is not yet over. As of right now, the Court has ordered the following:
- No later than July 20, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons shall file a list of all prisoners who are over the age of 50 or suffer from an underlying health condition that creates a risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The list should also identify each prisoner’s sentencing court, criminal case number, and indicate whether the prisoner has been assessed for compassionate release and/or home confinement.
- No later than July 22, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons shall notify all prisoners that are being considered for home confinement and institute a process, including free telephone calls or emails to family members, so that prisoners can provide the Bureau of Prisons with a plan for release to home confinement.
- No later than July 28, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons shall evaluate each prisoner who is 50 or older or suffers from an underlying health condition for release to home confinement and give substantial weight to each prisoner’s risk factors for severe illness or death from COVID-19.
- No later than August 3, 2020, for every prisoner who has filed an application for compassionate release (not just those over the age of 50 or who suffer from an underlying condition) but has not yet received a decision, the Bureau of Prisons shall provide written notice of either a referral of the matter in writing with a recommendation of approval or denial of the request and copy of the applicable appeal form.
- A medical expert will be permitted to conduct a site visit of Lompoc. No date has been set yet for the site visit. The parties are to meet and confer about those arrangements and a file a status report with the court by July 20, 2020.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, the Prison Law Office, and the law firm Bird Marella filed this class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of people incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institutions in Lompoc. Read the complaint here.