A federal court judge signed off Monday on a settlement of the lawsuit filed by medically fragile inmates against the state Department of Correction and Gov. Ned Lamont to receive greater protections from COVID-19.
The settlement requires the DOC to prioritize medically fragile inmates and those over age 65 for release while increasing sanitizing and social distancing – all measures that help prevent the spread of the coronavirus which has killed 4,406 state residents including seven inmates.
“Now that the court has approved the settlement, the DOC is obligated to follow the agreement’s requirements for protecting incarcerated people from COVID-19,” said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut which represented the inmates in the class action lawsuit. “It will require our constant vigilance to ensure the DOC keeps the promises it has made in this agreement, and we look forward to partnering with incarcerated people and their families to monitor DOC’s compliance.”
McGuire also wants the legislature to pass a “pandemic response plan” for the state’s prisons and jails that would provide for the broader release of inmates. But the special legislative session set to start Thursday will only focus on four topics: Police accountability, the extension of telehealth, cost cutting measures for insulin and absentee ballots.
“It is deeply upsetting that the legislature has not prioritized people who are incarcerated during its summer session,” McGuire, said.
Under the agreement which was reached in early June, the DOC will be monitored by a five-person panel which will make their reports public, the CT ACLU said. U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton agreed to the terms Monday following a fairness hearing on the agreement.
“We are pleased the parties were able to work together to resolve these difficult issues collaboratively and with the best interests of all involved,” said Attorney General William Tong whose office represented Lamont and former DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook in the lawsuit.
The DOC will have to allow inmates to shower every other day, whether or not an inmate tests positive for COVID-19, and provide two bars of soap and two fresh face masks each week. Additional cleaning and medical monitoring for COVID-19 will also be done, under the terms of the agreement.
Since the coronavirus pandemic reached Connecticut in mid-March, 1,344 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and seven have died. The results of mass testing released June 19 showed that 24 percent of the 617 inmates tested at Osborn Correctional Institution were positive for disease as were 45 percent of 295 inmates at Brooklyn Correctional Institution.
DOC and state officials have drawn fire from families of inmates and the unions representing employees for the way the agency is handling the public health crisis. At one point, the DOC was denying indoor showers to inmates in quarantine and didn’t let inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 shower while they were being held in isolation at Northern Correctional Institution.
Unions representing correction officers and other employees have been vocal about misguided protocols that they contended place staff and inmates in greater danger including requiring non-essential staff to remain in the facilities full-time.
At the same time the state’s prison population has dropped below 10,000 for the first time in decades. The reduction in the population is due in part to fewer admissions during the pandemic and what DOC officials said are more releases.
The agreement will end on Dec. 31.