HARTFORD, CT — Cars and trucks lined Prospect Avenue outside the governor’s residence Monday honking their horns and demanding the release of their loved ones behind bars.
“Prisons are an incubator for viruses,” Joshua Frazer said over a sound system in his truck bed.
Frazer’s brother Freddie Johansen, charged with three robberies and held on $298,000 bond, has chronic Lyme disease, making him more at risk for complications if he contracts COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is only going to be incubated in our prison system to come home to our communities,” Frazer said.
He said the failure to act is going to “cause more harm to our communities. This isn’t just an issue for the people inside. This is an issue for us all.”
Rhonda Davis’ son is at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville.
She said she worries because he always has bronchitis and he’s always getting put in segregated housing for his behavioral issues.
“I’m here to see what I can do to make things better not just for my son, but for all inmates,” Davis said.
She said her son only has a short time left on his sentence.
The protesters who lined the street said Gov. Ned Lamont refused to take the necessary preventive measures to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 within the Department of Corrections.
Lamont was not at the mansion at the time of the protest, according to his staff. He was on the phone with Vice President Michael Pence.
Lamont and Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook are named defendants in a lawsuit filed last week that accuses them of leaving nearly 12,000 people, both sentenced and unsentenced, with no way to protect themselves in the state’s prisons.
As of Monday, 32 staff and 21 inmates throughout the state’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the DOC. More than 720 people have been released since March 1.
At an afternoon briefing with Lamont, Cook said he doesn’t know how many of the 727 people released since March 1 were released early. The agency is also working with the Judicial Branch on how to reduce the pre-trial population which is held on bond and working with the Board of Pardons and Paroles to secure the release of those who are eligible. “I would not classify our efforts as a mass release,” Cook said.
Asked about the protest Lamont encouraged the protesters to give him a call next time instead of clogging up the street in front of the governor’s mansion.
“Give me a call, let’s talk about it,” Lamont said. “We don’t need people outside protesting right now.”
The lawsuit claims that the number released so far is woefully insignificant and that more people need to be released to allow those that remain to adequately “social distance” to stop the disease from blowing through the prisons.
Cook said they are quarantining inmates who have tested positive with other inmates who have tested positive and they are giving everyone two more phone calls per week. The agency is trying to determine the best place to quarantine all those who have tested positive on one facility, but which building has not been determined yet, Cook said.
Davis and Frazer both said their loved ones have been unable to get a hold of the proper cleaning products to keep themselves safe. Correction officers also expressed concern Friday that the agency wasn’t moving fast enough to separate the inmate population even though the DOC has buildings that are empty and could be used.
But the unions representing 4,500 DOC employees said they didn’t support a “mass release” of inmates at this time. “We have a process in the state of Connecticut that makes sure offenders are prepared to go back into the community,” said Collin Provost, President of AFSCME Local 391, one of several unions that pointed out problems with the agency’s plans to deal with the health crisis.
“We release hundreds of inmates safely every month,” Provost said. “We believe that if we are given the proper tools we will be able to maintain safety of the staff and the inmates. We want to make sure they are prepared and aren’t released homeless, jobless and with no money. That would create more criminal activity – that’s not what we want to do.”
The protest lasted for about 50 minutes before the police were able to get the line of cars to disperse.