Metropolitan Correctional Center Facing Inmate Lawsuit Over COVID Safety

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Metropolitan Correctional Center Facing Inmate Lawsuit Over COVID Safety
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In the newest in a string of recent inmate-VS-correctional facility lawsuits, plaintiffs Ricky Price and Kevin Conway on behalf of all inmates similarly situated in the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) are suing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for failing to protect inmates from the COVID-19 virus.

The MCC and BOP are facing a class action lawsuit alleging that these parties violated the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees detainees the right to reasonable health and safety. MCC is not the first prison to face allegations of negligence in regard to inmate protection from the virus.

The lawsuit alleges that MCC currently houses 500-550 inmates in a space designed for 400.

The allegations regarding inadequate COVID safety measures start right away, as the plaintiffs point out the inability to social distance in an overcrowded facility. As of May 4th, 2020, the plaintiffs’ facility was said to have the fourth highest number of reported cases in any BOP facility in the country; the official lawsuit further alleges that this and current reports do not reflect the actual number of cases in the facility, due to “...systematic testing on only some of MCC’s residential floors.”

Staff sanitization measures in this facility have also faced criticism.

Basic safety violations as stated in the lawsuit include “...poorly implemented and incomplete isolation and quarantine processes, slovenly disinfection, and a blind eye turned to staff who do not wear masks.” Inmates claim that not only did staff fail to wear masks and gloves themselves, but when the inmates reported to work around the facility, they were also not given proper protective gear to mitigate the spread of the virus between themselves and other working inmates. The lawsuit alleges that basic sanitization of floors, sheets, and high-touch surfaces is largely neglected, resulting in the inability of inmates to look out of their own cleanliness, and enabling the spread of germs on a wider scale than would otherwise be necessary.

Plaintiffs allege that the prison relies on inmates “self-reporting” systems to identify COVID cases.

Part of the trouble with this is an unwillingness of inmates to self-identify as potentially COVID-positive, as the cells being used to isolate infected inmates used to serve as a disciplinary wing of the facility. Understandably, many inmates are unwilling to isolate in these cells which have previously been used punitively, and are described in the complaint as “...small dark cells with a solid door with a “chuck hole” through which the food is passed. The unit is dirty and noisy.” The BOP itself advised against the practice of using secure housing units for COVID isolation, due to the possibility of inmates hiding their symptoms in an attempt to those parts of the facility. The MCC is also said to have moved infected or potentially infected inmates from one floor to another, to reside among other inmates who were not yet showing symptoms of the virus.

The lawsuit is seeking an order forcing the MCC to create and implement a better plan for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 within the facility.

Plaintiffs specifically requested the MCC’s new plan for COVID prevention include education of staff and residents about the COVID vaccine, development of a vaccination plan for older residents or those at increased risk, and more aggressive testing of everyone within the facility to sooner detect and isolate COVID-positive residents and staff. The lawsuit also requires the hiring of an infectious disease expert to monitor and advise on the new COVID control efforts within the facility, including ensuring that proper medical treatment and sanitization are happening in a timely, effective manner.

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