WATERBURY, CT — A state judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking the release of certain inmates at risk for contracting COVID-19 from Connecticut prisons and jails.
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis granted the states motion to dismiss the complaint Friday agreeing with the state that the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association lacked standing. She also concluded that the individual inmate plaintiffs could not show that Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook and Gov. Ned Lamont acted with “deliberate indifference” to the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit argued by the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called for furloughing all inmates who were within six months of the end of their sentences and called for releasing all inmates being held for “technical” violations of parole or probation.
Despite the loss in state court, the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union is pressing on with a federal lawsuit on behalf of all inmates in the hopes of keeping more people safe as the disease which has killed more than 2,000 people in Connecticut spreads through state prisons.
“Our hearts go out to the loved ones of incarcerated people, whom the state continues to put in harm’s way from COVID-19,” said Dan Barrett CT ACLU Legal Director who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. “We will not stop fighting, and we are using every tool at our disposal to require Governor Lamont and (DOC) Commissioner (Rollin) Cook to fulfill their constitutional and moral obligation to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19.”
As of Monday, 310 DOC employees and 382 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. Two inmates have died in recent weeks. Both were men in their late 50 or early 60s who had pre-existing conditions which would make them more likely to have complications from the disease.
DOC officials said 93 staff members who had tested positive have recovered and returned to work. Inmates who test positive or show symptoms are being taken to Northern Correctional Institution where they can be isolated. More than 200 have returned to their original facility after testing positive for the disease, DOC officials said.
Family members and advocates including the CT ACLU have been vocal in demanding the release of as many inmates as possible as the disease began to impact the state. Union officials representing correction officers and other DOC staff have also demanded better protections for employees and inmates.
DOC officials contend that the prison population is the lowest it’s been in years due to efforts to get those who are close to their release date out with community supports as the health crisis unfolded.
The pending federal lawsuit was filed as a class action on behalf of all inmates. The plaintiffs in that case 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.
Like the state lawsuit, the federal action contends that Lamont and Cook have not done enough to stop the spread of the virus in the state prisons.
“While we are disappointed by this cruel decision in the state court, which runs contrary to guidance from other courts across the country, our federal class action lawsuit on behalf of all people incarcerated in state prisons and jails continues,” said David McGuire, ACLU of Connecticut executive director.