The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are suing the U.S. government over conditions at the federal prison at Terminal Island in San Pedro, where close to half of the inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The ACLU of Southern California, the Prison Law Office, and the law firm Bird Marella filed class-action lawsuits Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of people incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island -- and also at the federal corrections facility in Lompoc.
Both suits ask the court to direct the prisons to release people who have vulnerable medical conditions that could lead to serious illness or death from COVID-19 infections. Exceptions would be individuals who pose serious flight risks or danger to others.
For those who remain, the suits ask that the prisons provide adequate spacing for 6 feet or more of social distancing. It also asks that people receive, without charge, individual supplies of hand soap and paper towels, and access to hand sanitizer, daily showers, and daily clean laundry, plus other measures.
The suits claim that conditions at the facilities constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects against cruel and unusual punishments.
Several hundred inmates a smaller number of staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at Terminal Island. At least seven inmates have died from complication related to the virus.
"This crisis need never to have reached such horrific proportions. Through a series of unconscionable delays, blunders, and failures to follow official guidelines, the situation grew unimaginably worse," the ACLU's Los Angeles chapter said in a statement Sunday. "And still, Terminal Island and Lompoc prison officials refuse to take adequate remedial actions, including those approved by the U.S. Congress and Attorney General's office."
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Attempts to reach officials at the Terminal Island facility were not immediately successful.
Los Angeles County health officials say all inmates in the facility are tested for COVID-19, and numbers released last week show that 552 inmates had recovered after testing positive.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has used a manufacturing facility at the prison as expanded housing, and has erected military tents to distance inmates from one another.