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ACLU files lawsuit seeking release of 13 more detainees at York County Prison

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch
York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Thursday, June 29, 2017.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that 22 more people being held in immigration detention in two county facilities be released because they are at heightened risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19.

Vanessa Stine, an immigrants' rights attorney for the ACLU, said on Saturday that 13 of the detainees are at York County Prison and nine are at Pike County Correctional Facility.

This new lawsuit, filed on Friday, comes on the heels of a ruling from last week in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg that freed nearly a dozen people in immigration detention, including four detainees at York County Prison

On Saturday, officials at York County Prison said a federal ICE detainee had tested positive for COVID‐19. The detainee has been at the facility since Jan. 22 and is now isolated in negative‐air housing. 

More:ICE detainee at York County Prison tests positive for COVID‐19

More:'Humanitarian crisis': ACLU sues, says York County Prison puts ICE detainees at risk from coronavirus

More:Hygiene, cleanliness conditions for ICE detainees in York prison concern advocates

More:DA: York County Prison work-release inmates furloughed or locked back up

More:Pa. corrections officers, advocates worry a prison coronavirus outbreak is inevitable

The new lawsuit said the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the jails in York and Pike counties increase the likelihood that the individuals could become infected, a plight similar to those who were previously ordered released, according to a news release.

All of the plaintiffs are at significantly elevated risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, because they are over age 65, have certain preexisting health conditions or both, the ACLU said.  

The plaintiffs described conditions at York County Prison where people are housed in close proximity to each other with as many as 60 people in a room with bunk beds that are an arm’s length apart, the release said..

And on Thursday, the Pike County commissioners announced that  one person who is incarcerated, three staff members, and one contract employee at the county facility have tested positive for COVID-19.

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“ICE simply cannot minimize the contagion inside detention centers, which means that people who are older or have certain preexisting conditions have a severe risk of getting very sick or dying,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU. 

“The federal court has already ruled once that ICE’s inability to keep medically vulnerable people safe violates their constitutional rights, requiring that they be released. We agree.”

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.