ACLU seeks release of Kansas inmates vulnerable to COVID-19

photo by: Associated Press

This Feb. 2, 2017, file photo, shows the Kansas Department of Corrections logo on the exterior of the Lansing Correctional Center in Lansing. (Mark Rountree/The Leavenworth Times via AP, File)

Story updated at 3:52 p.m. Thursday

WICHITA — A civil rights group asked the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday to immediately release prisoners who have preexisting medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas filed the class action petition on behalf of seven inmates at the Lansing Correctional Facility, the Ellsworth Correctional Facility and the Topeka Correctional Facility. They are seeking an expedited hearing before the state’s highest court on the request by the named plaintiffs and other inmates in similar situations.

“Petitioners are housed in crowded facilities with limited access to adequate medical treatment and sanitation supplies,” the ACLU said in the petition. “Several petitioners also have preexisting medical conditions that make them uniquely vulnerable to serious complications and death if they contract the COVID-19 virus — which has already infected both staff and individuals housed within Kansas prisons.”

The Kansas Department of Corrections has reported infections in 14 staff and 12 inmates at the Lansing facility.

The lawsuit contends that the release would not only prevent harm to vulnerable inmates, but would also sufficiently reduce prison populations to ensure proper social distancing and reduce transmission of the virus to remaining inmates.

“When inmates who are over 50 and suffering from diabetes or Hep C are forced to stand, sleep and eat within six feet of other inmates, we are literally putting people’s lives at risk,” ACLU Legal Director Lauren Bonds said in a statement. “This is an emergency situation requiring urgent action.”

It also seeks to immediately free inmates who are within 18 months of completing their sentences as well as those imprisoned for minor offenses.

Gov. Laura Kelly said last week that her administration was considering releasing prisoners who are close to the end of their sentences to reduce the risk of transmission in prisons. She said the focus was on those inmates with viable plans, such as those who have a place to live or a job.

Corrections spokeswoman Rebecca Witte said in an emailed statement that state officials recognize that inmates and prison staff are especially at risk of infection and have taken steps to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in corrections facilities.

Those include removing the $2 fee for primary medical visits to ensure everyone can afford to report symptoms. The department provides residents with soap at each hand-washing station.

But there are no immediate plans to release anyone ahead of their scheduled date. Kelly and state prison officials are examining additional options to minimize the impact of the virus in Kansas prisons, Witte said.

Cloth masks made by Kansas Correctional Industries will be distributed to inmates beginning Thursday. For all adult males entering facilities, the state has set up an intake isolation unit at Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility, where they will spend 14 days being monitored for symptoms.

Douglas County coverage: COVID-19 + Crime, courts and first responders

April 7, 2020: Douglas County district attorney: 14 inmates released from jail amid COVID-19; some community service hours waived in diversion cases

April 6, 2020: Stay-at-home order leaves a big question unanswered: Says who?

March 27, 2020: At Douglas County Jail, female inmates still sharing cells; total population has dropped

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March 25, 2020: Need to pay child support in Douglas County? Here’s how to do it amid the pandemic

March 24, 2020: Douglas County Jail suspends visitation amid ‘stay at home’ order

March 23, 2020: Douglas County juvenile detention center has no plan to release incarcerated youths; activists make national push

March 22, 2020: Speedy trial rights are on hold in Kansas. What does that mean for defendants?

March 21, 2020: Douglas County district attorney’s office closed to the public through April 3

March 19, 2020: What you need to know: Lawrence-area law enforcement shares latest updates amid COVID-19 pandemic

March 18, 2020: Kansas Supreme Court: State courts to conduct emergency operations only; cases won’t be dismissed

March 18, 2020: Douglas County Jail visitations continue; would-be inmate sent away at intake to self-quarantine

March 17, 2020: Douglas County District Court delays most hearings, jury trials amid COVID-19 concerns

March 13, 2020: Some Douglas County Jail inmates could be released on furloughs if sick or at risk of COVID-19

March 13, 2020: Douglas County District Court limits public presence in courtrooms, hallways amid COVID-19 outbreak

March 12, 2020: Lawrence-area first responders not changing protocol for medical calls right now

March 12, 2020: Douglas County Sheriff’s Office: Jail can accommodate quarantine, if needed

March 12, 2020: Kansas Supreme Court asks local courts for plans to continue operations amid COVID-19 outbreak


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