Judge orders expedited inmate release at Elkton prison during coronavirus outbreak


LISBON, Ohio (WJW)– A federal judge is ordering prison officials to decrease the inmate population at Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Columbia County, which is a hotspot for coronavirus.

There are 135 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates and eight in staff members at the low-security facility, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“Against a backdrop where approximately one out of every four Elkton inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, the respondent must move inmates out. By thumbing their nose at their authority to authorize home confinement, respondents threaten staff and they threaten low security inmates,” U.S. District Judge James Gwin said in his order on Tuesday.

While Gwin applauded their recent efforts to increase coronavirus testing, he said officials made “poor progress” in moving inmates from Elkton.

Prison officials identified 837 inmates who are vulnerable to the virus because they are 65 years or older, or have a significant preexisting health conditions. Of those, six qualified for home confinement and home confinement is pending for five more. None were identified for transfer.

Gwin restated many of U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s guidelines for expanded home confinement during the pandemic. He also called for prison officials to explain why they were denying home confinement or compassionate release for each inmate.

One of the inmates pushing for release from Elkton Federal Correctional Institution is former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who is serving a 28-year sentence on corruption-related counts. One Monday, he was denied his latest request. His attorney, David Mills, said officials are not following the U.S. Department of Justice guidelines during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo was released from Butner Correctional Institution in North Carolina and placed on house arrest.

In April, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine authorized the Ohio National Guard to assist with the outbreak at Elkton. The governor does not have authority to release inmates at the federal facility.

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