A proposed class action claims the Federal Bureau of Prisons; its director, Michael Carvajal; and the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s (MCC) warden and health administrator are to blame for two COVID-19 outbreaks at the Chicago prison.
Per the 33-page case, the defendants have failed “not once, but twice” to protect the pre-trial and post-conviction detainees in their custody, in particular by ignoring recommended measures to hinder the spread of the virus in the spring of 2020 before implementing more “failed strategies” when cases began to surge again in November.
“Despite months to plan for a better outcome, Defendants resorted once again to the failed strategies of the spring, which did not stop the disease then and did not stop it the second time,” the complaint relays. “This included lockdowns, poorly implemented and incomplete isolation and quarantine processes, slovenly disinfection, and a blind eye turned to staff who do not wear masks (although staff are the ones who go in and out of the facility every day).”
According to the suit, the defendants’ “persistent failure” to protect MCC residents from COVID-19 threatens to expose the individuals to the same risks of serious harm “over and over again” absent an order from the court.
Filed in Illinois’s Northern District Court, the lawsuit states that around 90 percent of MCC’s population of 500 to 550 residents are pre-trial detainees, while the other 10 percent are post-conviction inmates. Conditions at the Chicago facility, which is described in the lawsuit as a “27-floor prison skyscraper,” are overcrowded. The jail’s population sits well above its 400-bed “design-capacity,” and the facility has several floors of “crammed” dormitory housing, conditions that make social distancing difficult or impossible, according to the case.
When the coronavirus began to sweep across the globe in early 2020, the defendants opposed motions for early release or home confinement for detainees despite the fact that the prison’s overcrowded conditions, for which the case argues defendants were “themselves responsible,” had the potential to serve as a breeding ground for the virus, the lawsuit says. Other than barring visitors on March 13, 2020, the defendants took “few other steps” to initially protect MCC residents from the spread of the virus, which has now “predictably overwhelmed” the prison, the suit relays. Per the case, the Bureau of Prisons COVID-19 webpage reports that the facility of 500 to 550 people has had roughly 300 resident cases since the start of the pandemic.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants failed to implement proper social distancing procedures and adequate testing when the first COVID-19 cases were reported among staff members. Once cases were acknowledged among residents, the defendants “compounded their errors through gross mismanagement of isolation and quarantine,” the suit says, arguing that the use of the “secure housing unit”—typically used for disciplinary purposes—for isolation and quarantine discouraged residents from reporting their symptoms. By relying on self-reporting, frequently moving residents between floors with no regard for proper quarantining techniques, and failing to distribute sufficient soap, cleaners and protective gear, the defendants fueled one COVID-19 outbreak among prison residents and failed to prevent a second, the lawsuit alleges.
Per the case, the defendants’ response to the pandemic has “damaged residents psychologically” given they’ve been subject to lockdowns since March 2020. Moreover, the defendants’ “generally inadequate healthcare” has added to residents’ anxiety, the suit says.
The lawsuit argues that “[o]nly a multi-layered approach,” including vaccination, routine testing, mask use, sanitation and proper use of isolation and quarantine can protect MCC residents from continuous exposure to the risks and harms “they have already endured.”
“Defendants had time and did not use it,” the complaint scathes. “They have failed their responsibilities under federal law, the Constitution, and their own regulations. It is now time to order them to protect Plaintiffs and the Class.”
The lawsuit looks to represent anyone confined or to be confined in MCC, with two proposed subclasses of pre-trial detainees and post-conviction residents.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.