ACLU Statement on Oakdale Prison Suit Dismissal

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
April 23, 2020 9:30 am

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ACLU of Louisiana
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WASHINGTON — Last night, a federal judge dismissed our class action lawsuit against Warden Rodney Myers and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal, filed on behalf of incarcerated people at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana. The suit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana, and Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP — sought the immediate release of all incarcerated people vulnerable to COVID-19 infection due to age and/or underlying medical conditions.

Oakdale has had the most fatalities of any BOP prison in the country, with seven incarcerated people dead so far from COVID-19. Dozens are currently sick and Oakdale is doing nothing to allow for social distancing. Yet the ruling asserted that federal courts have no power to intervene.

Yesterday, the ACLU also put out a new epidemiological model that shows how jails act as vectors for COVID-19 spread that could increase projected deaths in jails and surrounding communities by nearly 100,000. Though the report focused on jails and not prisons, the effect is similar to what’s currently unfolding in places like the Ohio prison system and at Oakdale itself.

Somil Trivedi, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, issued the following statement:

“We are already seeing the signs of the suffering and death at Oakdale that experts, advocates, and even corrections officials have been warning us about. Just as we are seeing humanitarian crises unfold in prisons in Ohio, at Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, and in the Dallas County jail, we are watching a disaster happen before our eyes in Louisiana.

“As people incarcerated at Oakdale continue to get sick, so will the staff who work at these facilities, and therefore the communities they return home to. The prison will be a vector that puts the health of thousands of Louisianans at risk, disproportionately people of color. We will keep fighting to free people from this prison, starting with those most vulnerable to serious illness or death.”

Bruce Hamilton, staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana, issued the following statement:

“This ruling does not change the fact that our clients, the staff, and the surrounding community are all at grave risk due to Oakdale’s failure to adequately respond to this crisis. While it may be too late for the seven men who have died, it is not too late for the Bureau of Prisons to prevent further loss of life by releasing people out of harm’s way. We will continue to fight to release people from these dangerous conditions and combat the spread of this deadly outbreak.”

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