TOPEKA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas is asking the Kansas Supreme Court to expedite the release of state prisoners at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.
The ACLU filing Thursday on behalf of five men and three women also asks the high court to force correctional facilities to take immediate actions to mitigate the risk of infection. The filing argues that the treatment of prisoners violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
The eight prisoners identified in the ACLU petition sleep and eat in confined areas and have underlying health problems that make them vulnerable to serious illness if infected with COVID-19. They range in age from 21 to 57 and are housed at Lansing, Ellsworth and Topeka correctional facilities.
At the Lansing prison, 12 inmates and 14 staff members have tested positive for the virus.
ACLU also accuses Lansing staff of threatening residents with solitary confinement and withholding shower access if they report symptoms of COVID-19.
Sashada Makthepharak, a 35-year-old Lansing inmate who was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes when he was 16 years old, is eligible for release in April of 2021.
“A number of people in Mr. Makthepharak’s cellhouse have COVID-19 symptoms but are choosing not to report them because they were told by staff that they would be put in the hole and deprived of access to a shower for the duration of their quarantine,” the ACLU court filing says. “He has received delayed and inadequate treatment for illnesses in KDOC custody in the past and has serious concerns that he will receive substandard care if he were to contract COVID-19 while he is incarcerated.”
Other men at Lansing suffer from Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, liver cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. They say social distancing isn’t possible in the prison, where they sit six inches apart while eating in groups of 100.
Tiffany Trotter, a 29-year-old mother of two, is at the Topeka Correctional Facility for a probation violation. She lives in dormitory-style quarters with 22 other women, the court filing says, and her bed is less than four feet from several other women.
In Ellsworth, 31-year-old Monica Burch shares an 8-by-7-foot cell with another inmate. She is less than three months away from her scheduled release for a nonviolent drug offense.
“Petitioners are housed in crowded facilities with limited access to adequate medical treatment and sanitation supplies,” the ACLU said in its petition. “Several petitioners also have preexisting medical conditions that make them uniquely vulnerable to serious complications and death if they contract the COVID-19 virus — which has already infected both staff and individuals housed within Kansas prisons.”