Inmates file class-action lawsuit over handling of COVID-19 at downtown jail

Inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center claim the “arbitrary and inadequate” measures taken by the downtown high-rise prison to contain the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in two major outbreaks that put those in custody and staff at risk.

Some of those failed measures include a lack of cleaning supplies and adequate social distancing, as well as a “poorly implemented and incomplete” isolation and quarantine process, according to a class action lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago on Friday. Officials also allegedly turned a blind eye to unmasked employees and ignored some people in custody who asked for tests.

Plaintiffs Ricky Price and Kevin Conway, both inmates of the MCC in West Van Buren, claim the federal prison office and MCC officials “failed not once but twice to protect those in their care from the pandemic”.

As a result, more than 200 inmates at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Bureau of Prisons website, despite the lawsuit indicating that “the actual infection rate was certainly higher.”

Although two MCC employees tested positive for the virus in late March, the facility was in many ways business as usual, the lawsuit said. Inmates were still working throughout the building, including the kitchen, even though they were not provided with masks and many employees did not wear masks or gloves, the lawsuit said.

The MCC relied mainly on residents reporting their symptoms themselves, the lawsuit said. However, many have allegedly been prevented from reporting their symptoms because they did not want to move to the safe housing unit, which is usually for disciplinary purposes. The lawsuit described these units as “small dark cells” that were “dark and noisy”.

Those who fell ill were not treated properly, the lawsuit alleges, and residents are “scared and depressed.”

Bar of soap is limited along with other major cleaning products, Price and Conway said. And laundry services are being secured so some residents will not be able to wash their sheets for weeks, the lawsuit says.

Price and Conway also said the cleaning of common areas was “random”. The showers were not cleaned after individual use and computers, iPads and other high-touch items were not disinfected after each use.

In fact, the disinfection of common surfaces and cleaning is so poor that MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) broke out on one floor last summer.

Conway, who tested positive for the virus in May, and Price said MCC had time to put in place appropriate protocols to ensure the safety of inmates and staff “and have not used it.”

“You have violated your responsibility under federal law, the constitution and your own regulations. It is now time to order them to protect the plaintiffs and the class, ”the lawsuit states.

Price and Conway claim that the MCC’s abuse of the pandemic “harmed residents” mentally.

The lawsuit calls on the federal prison office and MCC officials to develop a vaccination distribution plan that includes educating residents and staff about the gunfire and begin giving vaccines to residents aged 55 and over. The prison design also needs better quarantine and isolation. This includes all new residents being tested upon admission and placed in a separate and secure storage room.

Price and Conway also asked the MCC to hire an infectious disease and public health expert to advise the facility’s management of the pandemic, enforce universal masking and, among other things, provide more soap, hygiene stations and detergents for residents.

Read the full complaint below:


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