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  • Mariah Daly

Supreme Court refuses to block release of Ohio inmates due to COVID-19



Courts across the country are seeing a rising number of emergency petitions for release of prisoners due to coronavirus. Last month, U.S. District Judge James Gwin of Cleveland issued a directive ordering that Ohio prisons clear out the sole federal prison in Ohio-- the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution--to address the spread of coronavirus. The outbreak at Elkton has left nine inmates dead and more than 100 others infected. The Order expedites the transfer or release of 837 inmates who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus due to their age or underlying medical conditions.

When the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals refused to block Judge Gwin’s order, the Justice Department--representing the Bureau of Prisons (BOP)--requested that the Supreme Court intervene. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an Order denying the government’s request to halt the release of Ohio inmates under the order. However, the Court noted that the government could renew their request “if circumstances warrant.” Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, and Justice Gorsuch voted to grant the BOP’s request to halt the order.


ACLU national legal director David Cole gave a statement praising the Supreme Court “for choosing to reaffirm the rights of the people incarcerated at Elkton prison, for whom a prison sentence must not become a death sentence.” Cole said, “This is an extraordinary moment, and the lives of 2.3 million incarcerated people around the country are at serious risk from COVID-19. We must see more brave action from courts around the country to protect the lives of incarcerated people, staff who work in these facilities, and the communities they return home to. History will judge us based on how swiftly and boldly we act."


ACLU Ohio’s Senior staff attorney, David Carey, issued the following statement:

“The federal government has attempted to stall and delay the release of medically-vulnerable individuals at every single turn. Today’s ruling confirms the urgent need to comply with Judge Gwin’s order and respond to the crisis in an efficient and expedient manner. Lives of prisoners, prison staff, and the community depend on swift action to move the most vulnerable people away from the COVID-19 outbreak before it is too late.”

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