COVID-19, News

NC prison termed “deadliest of all federal facilities” for COVID-19 in new lawsuit

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With the aid of a major international law firm, a pair of civil rights organizations sought immediate assistance today for inmates endangered by the COVID-19 pandemic at a North Carolina federal prison.

As the release below from the ACLU of North Carolina spells out, the plaintiffs say the federal prison complex in Butner has become the “deadliest of all federal facilities during this pandemic”:

CHARLOTTE – In response to intensifying COVID-19 outbreaks at the federal prison complex in Butner, North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Winston & Strawn filed a class-action lawsuit today seeking adequate medical care for people incarcerated in Butner Federal Correctional Complex. The lawsuit is asking for the rights of people incarcerated to be protected and conditions be made safe for those who remain in custody amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Corrections institutions have continuously failed to take even the most basic life-saving measures to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19 — nowhere is this truer than Butner, which has been the deadliest of all federal facilities during this pandemic,” said Maria Morris, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Prisons and jails are the sites of the biggest hotspots for COVID-19 everywhere in the country. If the courts don’t intervene to mitigate the humanitarian crisis unfolding, they will be responsible for the lives lost.”

Plaintiffs claim that people who need medical care for issues other than COVID-19 also haven’t been able to access it during the pandemic, a violation of their rights. The lawsuit also states that everyone who has died from COVID-19 at Butner had a known medical condition that made them more vulnerable to the virus, yet officials didn’t take adequate steps to protect them, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

“More than 1000 incarcerated persons at Butner have been infected with COVID and 27 have died,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “This was avoidable had the Bureau of Prisons taken steps to reduce the population to allow for physical distancing or implemented well-established and widely published infection control practices. The failure to do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus continues to today. The callous indifference to the health and safety of persons who are held in the facility is shocking.”

John Dailey, who died of COVID-19 in early July, represents one such instance of the failure of prison officials at Butner to protect incarcerated people. John was sick for weeks before he was evaluated. By the time they took him off his housing unit to be evaluated, his condition had already deteriorated so much that he had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.

“The government’s inaction to save lives in Butner is unconscionable, but we believe there’s still time to rectify the situation,” said Em Harwell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina. “We’ve seen people die from COVID-19, like John Dailey, before even getting any medical attention. Quite literally, there are lives that rest in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. For thousands of people, acting now is better late than never.”

The new lawsuit comes after a U.S. district court judge denied a preliminary injunction in a previous case in May. The ACLU of North Carolina has an ongoing lawsuit in state court to release and protect people currently incarcerated in state prisons.

Link to lawsuit here: www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/sites/default/files/scarantino.pdf

3 Comments


  1. Jen Gouch

    October 28, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    Mountain view has been on lockdown for a week. Inmates have no way of contacting families. They are not allowed out of cells. They can’t purchase stamps. There health is ignored. Inmates from here are being transferred to other prisons by the hundreds. They aren’t be quarantined and just spreading this virus further. NCDPS is simply putting every inmate in this state in danger of catching this virus and playing Russian roulette with their lives. They won’t even allow them to go outside and breathe fresh air. None of this is being reported to the public.

  2. Rita

    November 1, 2020 at 9:12 pm

    Why would SCDC move inmates that test positive to prisons that barely have an outbreak? Wouldn’t that cause an outbreak for more inmates at the other prisons?

  3. Beth Horne

    November 2, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    Jen Gouch- I just received an email from the COVID-19 Prison Project at UNC-Chapel Hill in response to my request for guidance/legal assistance for a loved one at MVCI who has been held in isolation for 18 days despite two negative COVID tests. They are going to forward my email to ACLU lawyers. I hope something can be done because the virus was likely spread to MVCI by three employees who had worked extra weekend shifts at Avery-Mitchell during the active outbreak at that facility the first week of September. Prison guards are being paid time and a half to work in other facilities during active outbreaks.

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