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ACLU Sues Federal Prisons Demanding Release Of Prisoners At Hard-Hit SoCal Facilities

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Prisoners' relatives rallied at Terminal Island on May 8 calling for more action to protect inmates from the virus. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist).
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The ACLU of Southern California has filed lawsuits seeking the swift reduction of the populations at two Southern California federal prisons hard hit by coronavirus outbreaks.

The suits, filed over the weekend, cite over a thousand COVID-19 cases in Lompoc Prison — nearly half the population. And roughly 700 out of the 1,000 inmates at Terminal Island have tested positive for COVID-19, although current data provided by the Bureau of Prisons indicates only 117 of those cases are now considered active.

Don Specter is co-counsel on the suits, and says both prisons' high infection rates are made worse by overcrowding. He told us:

“Those two factors combined make it very difficult, if not impossible, to be safe from infection. And also to get appropriate medical care if they are infected.”

Specter says many inmates are low-risk offenders but are at a high risk for serious health complications, particularly at Terminal Island where he said most prisoners are assigned “because of their medical conditions.”
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At Lompoc, two inmates have died of COVID-19. Seven inmates have died from the virus at Terminal Island.

Specter hopes the remedy the ACLU is seeking — the significant release of prisoners — can be sped up through a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Felicia Ponce, Terminal Island's warden, said last week that her facility is undergoing a second round of review to recommend more inmates for home confinement. It's expected to be completed May 22.

UPDATE: On Monday, May 18, the Bureau of Prisons told us it won't comment on pending litigation.

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