A federal judge based in Indianapolis is ordering the federal government to show it is enforcing certain precautions against COVID-19 before it can execute more inmates at the the U.S. prison complex in Terre Haute.
Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, chief of the federal system's Southern District of Indiana, issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday.
In that filing, she said the Bureau of Prisons has an obligation to attempt to protect the Federal Correctional Complex's population from COVID-19, including when it conducts an execution and brings off-site personnel onto the grounds of the complex.
Each execution brings approximately 50 to 125 individuals to FCC Terre Haute, the judge noted.
To that end, Magnus-Stinson said the BoP must:
• Enforce mask requirements for all staff participants in the executions.
• Maintain contact logs for all FCC Terre Haute staff members involved in any execution who have close contact — within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes over the course of a 24-hour period — with any other person during execution preparation, during an execution or during the post-execution process.
• For 14 days following any such close contact, require all impacted FCC Terre Haute staff members to produce a negative COVID-19 result using one of the complex's 21 rapid testing machines each day before beginning ordinary duties that involve interaction with FCC inmates.
• Conduct thorough contract tracing for any such FCC staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 during this 14-day period.
The judge wrote that she would not allow the bureau to carry out executions unless or until it can show these precautionary measures have been followed.
Three executions are scheduled for next week: Lisa Montgomery on Tuesday, Cory Johnson on Thursday and Dustin Higgs on Friday.
The timing of the remaining executions scheduled by President Donald Trump's administration's Justice Department is relevant, as Trump leaves office at noon on Jan. 20, and President-elect Joe Biden is opposed to the death penalty and could halt federal executions.
Higgs is the last of those currently scheduled to be executed in a series of federal executions that began in July. The Trump administration will have executed more people in a single year than any other administration in more than 130 years, the Associated Press reported.
Magnus-Stinson's preliminary injunction came in the case Smith v. Barr, No. 2:20-cv-00630-JMS-DLP.
The federal government could choose to meet Magnus-Stinson's requirements, or it could appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which is based in Chicago.