The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra

A federal judge Friday ordered an inspection of the Sheridan federal prison, amid recent deaths as well as serious concerns raised about the overall health and medical care of the more than 1,200 men serving sentences.

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The inspection of the Bureau of Prisons facility was granted over the objections of the government’s lawyers and must occur within the next two weeks, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman wrote in her order.

“The inspection will begin at an agreed-upon time and will last for five hours from the time the participants have passed through security, with additional time for any delays,” Beckerman’s order stated. “Although the Court authorizes Petitioners’ inspection team to visit the requested areas and to take photographs consistent with BOP regulations, the Court does not authorize the team to interview any incarcerated individuals or staff, nor inspect any records during the visit.”

Related: Federal inmates in Oregon report alarming health conditions as pandemic continues

According to court records, since March at least three people have died while serving sentences at the Bureau of Prison-run facility. The deaths are not believed to be connected to COVID-19, the court documents state.

The most recent death was Ikaika Ryan Chung, 42 who died last month. The day Chung died, one person inside Sheridan contacted Hay telling her that Chung “has a medical problem where he is delirious, cant walk cuz his legs are swollen beyond the scope of ‘normal edema’” and that medical personnel were “refusing to do ANYTHING to change his current medical status. he NEEDS HELP. he cant walk on his own and needs help distinguishing clothing from bedding because he isn’t of a normal state of mind.”

Others who have been recently released from the prison have complained about days-long long lockdowns in their cells and have described poor medical care at the facility.

“Right now, what we see is the conditions are unconstitutional and the court should start releasing people from their prison,” Lisa Hay, the federal public defender said during a hearing before Beckerman on Wednesday.

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The inspection Beckerman granted was scaled down from what Hay had requested. Initially, Hay had asked for a team of seven people, including a doctor, to inspect the facility over two eight-hour days. In addition to inspecting medical and housing units, Hay also wanted to conduct recorded interviews with staff and those incarcerated at Sheridan. She also asked the judge to allow them to review emergency room log visits, medical files, and credentials for medical personnel, among other things.

Related: Sheridan federal prison inmate dies from medical issues as prison conditions in question

During Wednesday’s hearing, attorneys with the Justice Department argued the prison inspection would increase the risk of COVID-19.

“Absent a court order, we’re not opening the prison to seven outsiders to traipse about the three facilities and talk to different people,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Hager. “I think that’s uncalled for given the circumstances.”

Hager called the conditions inside Sheridan “undoubtedly more harsh,” in large part due to COVID-19 restrictions, but he argued the conditions “are not deliberately indifferent” and therefore don’t amount to constitutional violations as Hay claimed.

“The conditions are harsh,” Hager told Beckerman. “We are not hiding from the fact that we need to triage medical services presently, given the pandemic. But all of it goes to show that we do not need an invasive inspection of seven outsiders coming into roam the facility seeing interviews with anyone willing to talk.”

Hager noted that several employees have stated in court records the conditions are challenging for people serving sentences at Sheridan.

One of those employees was warden Dewayne Hendrix, who took over in November 2020, amid the pandemic.

“I acknowledge that prison conditions have been relatively harsher during the COVID-19 pandemic due, in part, to restrictions on inmate movement, prohibitions on gatherings, and reduced availability of programs,” Hendrix stated in an Aug. 24 court declaration. “I have had to strike a balance with our modified operations protocols, remaining flexible to respond to changing circumstances within FCI Sheridan.”

In her order, Beckerman stated that all members of the inspection team must be fully vaccinated and wear a N-95 mask along with other protective equipment while inside the facility.


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