ACLU Settles Lompoc Prison Lawsuit over Botched COVID Response

Medically Vulnerable Inmates Must Be Considered for Home Confinement

Lompoc Prison | Credit: Courtesy

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has settled a class-action lawsuit filed by Lompoc correctional complex inmates against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that claimed the federal agency failed to appropriately respond to a COVID-19 outbreak that swept through the complex in the early days of the pandemic, killing five inmates and sickening more than 1,200. At the time, it was the worst COVID-19 outbreak in any correctional facility in the country.

“This crisis need never have reached such horrific proportions,” said the ACLU, which also sued the BOP’s Terminal Island facility, where eight inmates died. “Through a series of unconscionable delays, blunders, and failures to follow official guidelines, the situation grew unimaginably worse. 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.”

The settlement compels the BOP to abide by a directive issued by then Attorney General William Barr to authorize home confinement for medically vulnerable inmates (i.e., those 50 or older with at least one underlying health condition); conduct regular screenings and testing of inmates and staff; and cease the use of punitive isolation cells for quarantine purposes. Current figures show there are 34 active COVID cases among Lompoc complex inmates and two among staff.

The class-action complaint, which cited original reporting by the Santa Barbara Independent as the basis for many of its allegations, was filed by the ACLU on behalf of five inmates ​— ​Yonnedil Torres, Vincent Reed, Felix Garcia, Andre Brown, and Shawn Fears. Torres had chronic asthma, and in the midst of the Lompoc outbreak, he developed a fever, diarrhea, and body aches, but his requests for medical assistance were ignored. Only after he collapsed in his cell with acute respiratory shock did guards intervene. Torres was put into a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator. He now suffers from severe lung damage.

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