HARTFORD, CT — The Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union has filed a second lawsuit – this time in federal court – against Gov. Ned Lamont and Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook seeking to obtain release or better protections for medically fragile inmates as COVID-19 spreads through the state’s prisons.
The first lawsuit filed in state court on April 3 by the CT ACLU seeks the release of inmates, better health care and better social distancing practices is still pending.
The second lawsuit filed late Monday in U.S. District Court is a class action emergency injunction seeking the release of all medically fragile inmates, including those over the age of 50 and those who are being held “pre-trial,” before their case is complete, and after being sentenced, and greater protections such as masks and gloves and social distancing for those inmates who remain.
A spokesperson for Lamont said the Governor’s office had no comment on the federal lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit are six medically fragile inmates including two men over the age of 50 with HIV, a man being held in the Bridgeport Correction Center who has symptoms of COVID-19, and a man in Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institute who shares showers, phones and common space with 80 men in his unit.
But the class action lawsuit is representing all inmates, whether they are being held while a case is being adjudicated or are serving a sentence post-conviction, representatives from the CT ACLU said.
Both lawsuits contend that Lamont and Cook have not done enough, including release enough prisoners, to allow those who remain incarcerated to spread out in the hopes of stopping the disease from blowing through state prisons.
“The DOC’s reactive, backward approach to COVID-19 has made Connecticut prisons and jails among the most dangerous, unhealthy places anyone could be during this pandemic. The DOC’s response has exacerbated the crisis and threatens public health as a whole,” said Dan Barrett, CT ACLU legal director and an attorney on the case. “Incarcerated people are in grave and immediate danger in DOC facilities, and Governor Lamont and Commissioner Cook have a constitutional and moral responsibility to move them out of harm’s way, including by compassionately releasing people.”
As of Monday, 202 DOC employees and 293 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 which causes fever, cough and difficulty breathing. One inmate has died. DOC officials have moved 183 inmates who have tested positive to an isolation unit at Northern Correctional Institution.
More than two dozen staff members have returned to work after testing positive and 101 inmates were returned to their original facilities after being taken to Northern to be treated for the disease.
Statewide 20,360 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,423 have died as of Tuesday. People over 60 and those with prior medical conditions are more likely to suffer complications or die from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“The numbers and stories coming out of Connecticut prisons and jails paint a horrific portrait of people left by Cook and Lamont to suffer and potentially die in a pandemic,” Barrett said. “We are asking the court to do what they have failed to do and protect incarcerated people now.”
The federal lawsuit contends that those who are in congregate settings, such a prisons, have a greater chance of catching the disease which is passed through air droplets from people who may or may not be exhibiting symptoms.
“It is virtually impossible for people who are confined in prisons, jails and detention centers to engage in the necessary social distancing and hygiene required to mitigate the risk of transmission of the disease,” the federal lawsuit said.
The CT ACLU wants all medically fragile inmates to be released and a plan created to allow for better social distancing for those who remain incarcerated. That plan would have to include the release of more inmates if social distancing remains difficult to accomplish, the CT ACLU said.
More than 50 members of the Yale University medical, public health and nursing facility also sent Lamont a letter Tuesday asking for greater protections for inmates including compassionate release and housing opportunities in hotels and dorms.