A federal judge in Oregon on Tuesday dismissed the claims of nearly 200 current and former inmates at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution who said the prison’s response to the pandemic COVID-19 is very dangerous and the only cure is to release them from prison. .
Court documents show that the people in the jail said they did not receive medical or mental health care. This includes people with untreated cancers. Many accused them of being punished in exchange for participating in the court case. Seven people have died in prison since the start of the pandemic, not from COVID-19, but from untreated medical problems and overdoses.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Stacie Beckerman sided with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, ruling that those incarcerated have been following the wrong legal strategy for most of the years that two and a half years have passed since the first case was filed. Instead of habeas corpus, Beckerman said those in prison should work to address their concerns through administrative procedures aimed at reducing the prison sentence.
“While the Court sympathizes with the difficult experiences of the Plaintiffs in Sheridan during the epidemic, the Court cannot conclude that simply stating that the restrictive measures do not comply with the Eighth Amendment is sufficient to give up control under circumstances like those here,” Beckerman said in his ruling.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which represented the Bureau of Prisons in the case, and the Office of the Public Defender, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.
Like many prisons and jails across the country, Sheridan has struggled under unprecedented challenges since COVID-19. The trial has cast a heavy spotlight on the conditions and workings inside the federal prison at a time when the pandemic has cut off most prisons from the outside world. And the problems will continue even as the epidemic subsides, according to court records.
In July, inmates said their cells were trashed and they were randomly beaten by teams of out-of-town corrections officers who were part of a special operations team and BOP response team. . The private group’s security guards have indicated that legal claims against the prison are worth it, according to court documents released by the Federal Public Defender of Oregon. The allegations prompted a letter from two Oregon senators to the new BOP Director, Colette Peters.
Other court documents raised concerns about the lack of health care, including cancer patients not receiving treatment for months. Some who were arrested said they had attempted suicide and had not received the medication or psychiatric treatment they requested.
In dismissing the case, Beckerman shut down a conference where these and other allegations were made public. The Department of Corrections has little to say about its health care, illnesses, or the purpose of the special management team.
“Plaintiffs argue that they are challenging the truth of their imprisonment, but they do not claim that their convictions or sentences were unreasonable in the first place, or that they are being held in excess of the law and that they are incarcerated, ” Beckerman wrote to himself. 24-page opinion. “However, the Plaintiffs allege that the adverse conditions at Sheridan put them at risk of serious illness from COVID-19, allegations arising out of the circumstances, not the status of their bond.”
The case began on April 30, 2022, when John Stirling, who is being held pretrial at the Sheridan Federal Penitentiary, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. He said Sheridan staff did not take precautions such as wearing masks and gloves, the jail was not isolating new inmates when they arrived at the facility, and the facility was on lockdown to prevent prisoners from rain, email, phone and proper food. .
Oregon’s Federal Public Defender’s office was appointed to take over Stirling’s case, and nearly 200 others followed. In other court documents, public defenders cited the Department of Corrections’ failure to establish safeguards, such as effective isolation measures, universal probation and access to masks and other personal protective equipment. They also called for prison for not reducing the population.
“Stirling said that, based on the BOP’s decision to use lockdowns to compensate for the dismissal of Sheridan and the possibility that he could contract COVID-19, there is no reason for the detention of Sheridan. [that could] meet the requirements of the law’ and therefore the Eighth Amendment required his immediate release,” Beckerman said in his 24-page opinion. He disagreed with that opinion.
The decision also bars future filings in the case. Oregon Public Defender Lisa Hay wanted to file a lengthy case summary as part of the court record. The document, sealed by Beckerman, details seven deaths at the prison since March 2020, including one death by suicide.
“The impact on the mental and physical health of inmates has been devastating,” according to the document, which OPB obtained before being sealed by a judge. “The multiple waves of coronavirus infections, along with the long-term effects of isolation, lack of restraint, and uncertainty, have pushed residents at FCI Sheridan to the breaking point. Their pleas have been answered for help, even to the point of stopping the hunger, sometimes with indifference, they retaliated fiercely.”
The prison went on to say that the prison violated the Eighth Amendment rights of incarcerated inmates and the due process rights of pretrial detainees. It says that “in light of the nature of the violations over the past two years, no conditional sentence in Sheridan is constitutional.”
Many issues raised in habeas corpus petitions can still be used in civil litigation.