LOUISVILLE - In a lawsuit filed today, seven people who are being held at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women (KCIW) have asked a federal court for their release because they are at heightened risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. This lawsuit comes after the announcement that three staff members and 11 incarcerated people at KCIW have become infected with the highly contagious respiratory illness. Last week, state officials announced KCIW has been locked down by dormitory, and more than 200 staffers and 600 incarcerated people will be tested for the novel coronavirus.
Represented by the ACLU of Kentucky, those filing the action argue that the cramped and unsanitary conditions of KCIW increase the likelihood that they could become infected. All the petitioners are at significantly elevated risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they contract COVID-19 because they have certain pre-existing health conditions, including chronic lung, heart, and kidney ailments.
“There is a significant public health interest in releasing our clients to home incarceration,” said Heather Gatnarek, staff attorney at the ACLU of Kentucky. “We saw how quickly the coronavirus outbreak at Green River Correctional Complex turned deadly. Once coronavirus enters a prison, it spreads rapidly. Our clients are in grave danger.”
One of the petitioners, Allison Moseley, lives with cystic fibrosis. As a result, Ms. Moseley has difficulty breathing and already relies on four breathing treatments per day. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, these treatments have stopped, forcing her to rely on her inhalers. This has deteriorated her condition. Ms. Moseley has a “heaviness” in her chest that is worse than it has been in a long time. This puts others at risk too because Ms. Moseley has so much difficulty breathing that she cannot wear a mask to protect others from COVID-19 should she become infected.
The petitioners in the lawsuit describe sharing a limited number of facilities in KCIW’s cramped living quarters. Beds are an arm’s length apart and dozens of people are sharing a handful of toilets, showers, and sinks that are only cleaned once or twice daily, if at all. Safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing are limited to certain areas and are not strictly enforced. Incarcerated women at KCIW are unable to practice recommended hygiene due to limited access to hand sanitizer and soap. The petitioners cannot practice basic social distancing and self-isolation measures, leaving them unable to protect themselves from a very real likelihood of serious illness or death from COVID-19 due to their medical conditions.
“While KCIW officials are now taking steps to test everyone in the facility, they cannot minimize the risk of contagion under current conditions, which means that people who have certain health conditions have a severe risk of getting very sick or dying,” said Corey Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU of Kentucky. “The constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment requires KCIW to address the exceptionally severe risks COVID-19 creates for our clients.” Shapiro added that, “an outbreak also puts the broader community in serious danger because prisons are not sealed environments. Hundreds of corrections officers, law enforcement officials, and medical staff cycle in and out of numerous detention facilities and then move freely through their communities.”
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
This press release and a copy of the complaint are available on our website here.