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Claudia Cupe: Better COVID-19 plan needed in CT Department of Correction

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By Claudia Cupe via Hartford Courant

For the past two years, I’ve watched my loved ones suffer at the hands of the Connecticut Department of Correction because Gov. Ned Lamont has failed to develop a plan to keep incarcerated people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s disgusting what’s happening in jails and prisons in our state. This year, seven people have died in DOC custody due to COVID-19, and thousands more have tested positive.

I have two cousins who are incarcerated. They are in a scramble to deal with the new wave of COVID-19 and the highly transmissible new variant because at the front end of the pandemic, they did not put sufficient safeguards in place. Since physical distancing is nearly impossible in congregate settings like prisons, incarcerated people are at a heightened risk of COVID-19. My loved ones are in two different correctional facilities, yet they complain about the same lack of care in each prison, underscoring how widespread the issues are in the DOC.

Both of my loved ones have told me that the DOC provides incarcerated people poor quality cloth masks. Incarcerated people do not have access to N95 masks, which is the recommended face covering to shield from COVID-19. That does not protect them, or anyone around them from COVID-19. Because the DOC fails to uphold basic COVID-19 safety protocols, this exposes everyone – incarcerated people and staff – to the virus. And we know it won’t just stay in the DOC.

I hear horror stories from my cousins about incarcerated people who are positive with COVID-19 being placed in pods with people who have tested negative. With people moving in and out of pods with flimsy cloth masks that they must wear for weeks, the situation in jails and prisons is dangerous. Right now, in one facility, my cousin told me how the DOC is doing only temperature tests to determine if someone has COVID-19. That is unsafe, and a gross injustice.

For both of my loved ones, I am one of the few family members who they have in the state, which means a lot falls onto me to support them. The incarceration system puts a strain on the people who are incarcerated and their loved ones. When one person is incarcerated, an entire community suffers. I am suffering while my loved ones fight for their lives in a system that isn’t giving them basic rights to protect themselves during a pandemic. I am now in year three of this struggle.

Gov. Lamont needs to implement a comprehensive and transparent COVID-19 plan in the Department of Correction. At Katal, our #FreeThemNowCT Campaign is designed to ensure the state protects our loved ones. A plan to slow the spread of COVID-19 in correctional settings must include a way to legitimately decarcerate state jails and prisons during the pandemic to save lives. Connecticut ended the death penalty years ago; our loved ones should not be subjected to a death sentence. The state also needs to require that the DOC makes its plans for the prevention and management of COVID-19 in each correctional facility publicly available with oversight by an independent body of health experts. This is the only way to ensure that there is transparency in the Department of Correction.

Incarcerated people have family, friends, and loved ones who care about them. For my loved ones, I do this work to make sure they know they have loved ones who will not stop fighting for them.

Claudia Cupe is a recent graduate of Asnuntuck Community College, a small business owner, and a member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice.

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