ACLU files suit on behalf of Lompoc Federal Prison inmates; one inmate’s mother speaks out
On Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at the federal prison complex in Lompoc. The lawsuit claims prison administrators mishandled the coronavirus outbreak.
The Lompoc prison complex includes a medium security penitentiary, called United States Penitentiary, Lompoc, and an adjacent low security satellite camp called Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc.
Prison Warden Louis Milusnic and Federal Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal are personally named in the lawsuit.
ACLU attorneys filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It includes a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which argues that the prisoners should be released because the conditions of their detention are illegal.
“Because of the unlawful conduct of Respondents, Petitioners and the Class are threatened with imminent physical injury, pain and suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, and death,” the lawsuit read.
As of May 14, the complex housed 2,680 inmates. The lawsuit claims 60% of the inmate population has tested positive for COVID-19, but argues the true infection rate is much higher.
“Shockingly, these numbers, high as they seem, are still underreported. Only the 963 prisoners at FCI Lompoc have undergone a round of mass testing (which was completed weeks past the point where testing could have helped actually prevent the virus from spreading), with 882 reporting positive—meaning that nearly, 100% now have the virus.”
The lawsuit accused jail staff of not taking strong enough measures to prevent the outbreak such as mass testing of inmates and reducing the prison population to “allow for adequate social distancing and sufficient access to medical care.”
The lawsuit claims that the prison has refused to transfer medically at-risk inmates to home confinement despite having authority to do so through the CARES Act and guidance from Attorney General William Barr.
“Respondents are refusing to consider home confinement for the vast majority of those incarcerated at Lompoc. At the same time, Respondents have failed to conduct timely testing, provide adequate PPE, or effectively isolate those who are infected and those who have had contact with the infected,” the lawsuit read.
Plaintiffs are asking the court to order a “highly expedited release process” and require the prison to adopt COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as social distancing, free hand soap and inmate access to hand sanitizer.
Alexandria Estrada of Tucson, Ariz., said her son is incarcerated in the Lompoc prison. She claimed prison staff have allowed him to make one phone call since late April and his letters do not always get to her.
“FCI Lompoc is in a dormitory setting where 200 or more bunk beds are side to side by three feet apart. The prison talks about ‘well, you’ve got a social distance.’ It’s impossible to social distance six feet when you’re three feet apart from the next bunk,” Ms. Estrada said.
She added that inmates do not get enough soap to clean themselves and the prison commissary is closed, which prevents them from buying more with their inmate accounts.
“There is a general feeling of the people out here and in there of distrust because the BOP did this, it lends to distrust and thinking what it is they’re trying to hide from the general public,” Ms. Estrada said. “Why can’t they be more transparent and the efforts that they’re doing? They publicize things on their website, but that’s not happening. They’re not de-populating the prisons. They are censoring the prisoners, so that we don’t know what’s happening in there,”