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COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons – US Supreme Court Asked to Stay Ohio Injunction Requiring Transfer of Inmates

Written by: Phillip E. Friduss, Esq.

There have now been any number of COVID-related challenges to the conditions of confinement in jails/prisons nationwide, especially with respect to the elderly inmate population.  Two weeks ago we reported on the Texas case that had made its way to the US Supreme Court.  That case, Valentine v Collier, involved the 5th Circuit’s stay of a lower court injunction regulating the conditions of confinement at a Texas jail.  The US Supreme Court declined to lift the stay without comment, thought from the additional “Statement” of Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justice Ginsburg), it seems clear the denial was based on, of all things, the inmates’ failure to have exhausted their administrative remedies under the PLRA.  (7-page Statement here https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19a1034_new_kifl.pdf Justice Sotomayor otherwise disagreed with much of what the 5th Circuit had to say, and also discussed those times when exhaustion may not be required.

Last night, in Williams v Wilson, the Elkton (Ohio) Federal Correctional Institute and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons asked the US Supreme Court to stay an injunction the 6th Circuit left in place designed to secure the removal of inmates from the facility due to COVID19 concerns.  After granting a preliminary injunction requiring any number of things, the inmates moved to enforce the injunction due to the facility’s response to the preliminary injunction.  To wit, It determined that BOP had not found enough subclass members eligible for transfer out of Elkton through “home confinement” and “compassionate release.” .It therefore imposed revisions to BOP’s home confinement criteria — requiring, for example, that BOP “disregard” some inmates’ violent offenses — and ordered BOP to reevaluate all class members under the revised criteria.  If BOP finds any class member ineligible under the court’s standards, it must provide a detailed, individualized explanation. Ibid. BOP must complete this entire process for the first third of the class (approximately 300 people) by May 21, 2020; the next third 48 hours later; and the final third 48 hours thereafter.  Also within 48 hours of the order, BOP must provide individualized explanations for every instance in which it has denied a class members’ compassionate release petition, and identify and add new inmates to the class. Within a week, it must “show cause” why any remaining class members are deemed ineligible for transfer to other facilities.

The 6th Circuit declined to stay the injunction and here we are.  The Application for Stay can be found here https://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/19A1041.pdf  The Application discusses several cases that have worked their way through the system at this point, and is well worth the read.  The inmates must respond to the Application by this Friday.

We’ll stay on it.