A Texas prison housing inmates believed to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 won’t have to provide enhanced coronavirus protection measures. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week stayed an order that would have gone into effect Wednesday, aimed at preventing spread of the coronavirus at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas.
The Pack unit houses a higher number of elderly and medically vulnerable inmates, said Gabrielle Banks, federal courts reporter for The Houston Chronicle. The prison has had a 40% infection rate of the novel coronavirus, and so far, 20 inmates have died.
“(U.S District Judge Keith P.) Ellison, who’s been ruling on the situation at the Pack for a long time – he’s the judge on the heat case – he found that he doubted the credibility of TDCJ to do what they needed to do, and even just follow the CDC guidelines,” Banks said.” He said it was sufficient evidence to show that the prison officials would not do what they were compelled to do.”
Ellison ordered TDCJ to adhere to a regular cleaning schedule at the Pack unit, as well as provide sufficient PPE, soap, hand sanitizer and toilet paper to inmates. He also called on the prison to conduct regular COVID testing on inmates, something inmates it had not been doing.
“The Fifth Circuit stayed the injunction, which was set to go into effect on Wednesday,” Banks said. “They have not yet ruled on the appeal of the actual merits, and that is pending before a different panel of the Fifth Circuit. But as far as getting this injunction going, the Fifth Circuit said that it thought the prison was likely to win its appeal and that the injunction could not kick in because of this issue of exhausting their grievance procedure”
In its appeal of the injunction, the TDCJ said that inmates need to take their complaints through the proper channels – bypassing that internal grievance procedure and taking it to the courts instead.
“The judge said, he noted in his ruling, that this whole idea of the grievance process was something that the prison officials were so glued to that they said even if 100 people died, it still would be the inmates duty to follow the grievance procedure and not go outside to the courts and try to seek a remedy,” Banks said.