By Shellsea Lomeli
HARTFORD, CT – A federal class-action lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut on behalf of those incarcerated in state prisons and jails and in efforts to protect these individuals from COVID-19.
The ACLU of Connecticut is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that “defends, promotes, and preserves individual rights and liberties under the U.S. and Connecticut constitutions,” according to the organization’s site. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has taken action to ensure incarcerated people are protected from the virus. Various reports have indicated that those in incarcerated facilities are some especially vulnerable to the spread and effects of COVID-19. The Prison Policy Initiative called these prisons and jails, “amplifiers of infectious diseases” because much of the CDC recommended conditions and tacts to prevent the virus from spreading are almost impossible to carry out in these facilities. The CDC stresses that avoiding exposure to COVID-19 through social distancing is the best way to prevent and avoid illness.
On April 20, in an effort to “prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) facilities,” a federal class-action lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Connecticut.
This action was made against Governor Lamont and Commissioner Cook, “on behalf of two classes: people who the State of Connecticut is incarcerating pretrial, and those the State is incarcerating post-sentence.”
The plaintiffs include five people who are currently incarcerated in the DOC facilities. Most of these individuals have pre-existing medical conditions and three are above the age of 50. The CDC has stated that characteristics like these put the individuals “at a significantly higher risk of severe disease and death if they contract Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19).”
According to a press release from the organization, the lawsuit discussed the “ongoing COVID-19 mismanagement by the DOC that exacerbates the danger of contraction for people living and working in Connecticut prison and jails.”
The dangers listed in the complaint included “lack of social distancing, inadequate or nonexistent access to hygiene and cleaning supplies, inadequate or nonexistent access to personal protective equipment, lack of access to medical care, and transfers of people who test positive to and from the state’s ‘supermax,’ Northern Correctional Institution.”
The lawsuit stated that Commissioner Cook, one of the two defendants-respondents of the case, has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by transferring incarcerated individuals who tested positive for the virus “to isolation units in Northern Correctional Institution.”
This “supermax” prison is “not intended or designed to serve as a medical correctional facility,” and Commissioner Cook did not confirm that those transferred would be treated with the CDC recommended level of care.
“The conditions of confinement at DOC facilities across the state create a heightened and unreasonable risk of COVID-19 for any person confined,” the plaintiffs argued.
“Plaintiffs bring this class action seeking immediate release of all individuals 50 and older and those with medical conditions that place them at a heightened risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19,” the complaint stated.
The lawsuit relied on four main factual allegations. First, that “COVID-19 poses a significant risk of illness, injury, and death.”
Second, “the release of medically vulnerable people is necessary to reduce the grave and immediate danger that COVID-19 will result in serious harm or death at DOC facilities.”
Third, the plaintiffs argued that “DOC’s reactive, backward-looking approach to handle the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis.” This statement referred to claim that Connecticut has inadequately provided “sufficient medical services” to those incarcerated prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last main factual allegation stated was that “the current conditions of confinement at DOC facilities exacerbate the extreme and imminent danger faced by class members of contracting and possibly dying from COVID-19.”
According to the lawsuit, the current operations and conditions of DOC facilities exist as a form of unconstitutional punishment and unconstitutional confinement which both violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. constitution.
“DOC’s infection rate – considering incarcerated people only, not incarcerated people and staff – is multipliers higher than that of anywhere else in Connecticut.” As of April 20, “202 staff and 293 incarcerated people” have tested positive for COVID-19. The numbers are almost double from the cases recorded a week prior.
This lawsuit follows another “similar lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Connecticut in the state superior court,” at the beginning of April. This action was taken in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by reducing “the number of people who are incarcerated in the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) prisons and jails.” Oral arguments have already been heard for the case.
In a tweet, the ACLU of Connecticut stated that “public health experts have been warning Gov. Lamont for weeks about the danger of COVID-19 in prisons and jails.
“Lamont must act now to issue a thoughtful, compassionate plan to safely release people.”
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