Utah Department of Corrections is Facing a Lawsuit from COVID-Exposed Inmates

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Utah Department of Corrections is Facing a Lawsuit from COVID-Exposed Inmates
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Damon Crist, an inmate in the Utah State Prison, has filed a lawsuit regarding the civil rights of himself and other Utah inmates, alleging that the Utah Department of Corrections acted recklessly in regard to inmate COVID safety.

The lawsuit alleges that the prison’s practice of moving large groups of inmates from one facility to another directly contributed to serious outbreaks of the virus in October of 2020, and that inmate requests for medical care were frequently denied with deliberate indifference.

This lawsuit alleges that the Utah Department of Corrections is in direct violation of the 8th Amendment.

The 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” of incarcerated individuals. Crist alleges that the institution’s gross negligence in regard to preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus constitutes a blatant violation of federal law. This amendment is often cited as the reason why prisons are legally obligated to attend to incarcerated people’s serious medical needs. When large groups of inmates are moved from one facility to the other, on top of the lack of general precautions, these groups inherently increase the risk of transmission and have caused deep concern both to inmates and the families of those inmates.

The lawsuit alleges that inmates who tested positive were assigned to dorms with those who tested negative.

The official, handwritten lawsuit filed by Crist alleges that despite hundreds of inmate transfers, none of those transfers were tested or quarantined before being moved to their new facilities. The lawsuit also alleges that inmates who tested positive were assigned to dorms with inmates who tested negative. This is the basis of the gross negligence claims upon which this complaint appears to be based.

Similar lawsuits have been filed regarding other correctional facilities, but there have been few notable successes.

In addition to the challenges presented by representing one’s own case, as Crist is doing, there is a history of dismissals in regard to this particular type of lawsuit. Since the start of the pandemic, lawsuits have been popping up regarding inadequate safety measures on the part of some correctional facilities. For the most part, these lawsuits have been dismissed on procedural grounds. However, Utah Judge Keith Kelly has ordered that the Utah Department of Corrections respond to Crist’s allegations within 30 days of the initial filing.

In a phone interview, Crist told reporters that he was not seeking financial damages, nor was he seeking an early release; instead he is seeking a solution to the “mass outbreaks… infecting and killing people” as a result of the reckless movement of inmates between facilities. It is interesting to note that Crist’s official complaint was written by hand for the judge’s consideration and also includes allegations of medical malpractice on the part of the corrections facility’s medical professionals.

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