ACLU-NJ Statement on Fort Dix Prison Suit Dismissal

May 28, 2020

On May 27, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a class action habeas petition filed earlier this month and denied a preliminary injunction seeking the immediate temporary release of all medically vulnerable people incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Facility (FCI) at Fort Dix. The petitioners are represented by the ACLU-NJ, Selendy & Gay PLLC, and attorneys Jim Davy and Matthew Stiegler.

In the span of a month, the federal government reported 58 people confined at FCI Fort Dix had tested positive for COVID-19. With an outbreak underway, it has been impossible for the almost 3,000 people confined there to follow the guidelines of medical experts, increasing the risk of serious illness or death for those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age or underlying health conditions. The actions Fort Dix is taking are insufficient to protect them.

Attorneys in the case are considering next steps. They issued the following statements:

Tess Borden, staff attorney, ACLU-NJ: “We brought this case to protect the hundreds of people incarcerated at Fort Dix who are at risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. Our clients and so many others fear for their lives in prison right now. We will continue to work with them and our advocacy partners to fight for people who are incarcerated throughout New Jersey and to combat the spread of this deadly virus in prisons.”

Oscar Shine of Selendy & Gay: “This ruling denies relief to those who should be confined at home instead, many of whom may be eligible for release under the Department of Justice’s own guidelines. We call on Warden Ortiz to follow Attorney General Barr’s directions and ‘move with dispatch’ to transfer vulnerable people to home confinement.”

Civil rights attorney Jim Davy: “As the pandemic continues to spread inside prisons, FCI Fort Dix is imperiling the lives of not only our clients and other prisoners, but also those of staff members, their families, and the wider community. We know those lives remain at risk and are considering next steps in light of the Court’s ruling.”

Philadelphia-based attorney Matthew Stiegler: “The only way to protect lives is to reduce the prison population as quickly and safely as possible. We will continue to advocate for the release of people who face enormous risk to their health while incarcerated.”

Information about Wragg v. Ortiz, including copies of filings and the opinion, can be found here.

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