A COVID-19 outbreak is currently spreading through the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, where almost 3,000 people are confined in units of up to 300 people. On April 11 – just days after the Bureau of Prisons announced the first positive COVID-19 test among of a person confined at Fort Dix – Warden David Ortiz acknowledged in a Notice to the Inmate Population: “Social distancing is not possible in this environment.” In just three weeks, the number of reported positive tests among people confined at Fort Dix jumped from one to 40, but because of insufficient testing, the true number was certainly higher.
On May 4, the ACLU of New Jersey and its co-counsel partners filed a class action petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on behalf of people confined at Fort Dix who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age and/or underlying medical conditions. The petition, together with an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction, seeks the immediate, temporary release of prisoners – for example, through transfer to home confinement, to a halfway house, or even to a hospital if needed.
The ACLU of New Jersey has partnered with attorneys Jim Davy, Matthew Stiegler, and the law firm Selendy & Gay. The attorneys appeared before the Court for initial presentations on May 12, 2020.
On May 27, 2020, the Court issued an opinion denying petitioners' motion for a preliminary injunction and granting the government's motion to dismiss. The opinion is linked below.