Coronavirus cases triple in prisons, prompting new outrage
As confirmed cases of coronavirus surge among staff and inmates inside Connecticut prisons, Gov. Ned Lamont isn’t changing his plan to rely on existing policies to release inmates at only a slightly higher rate than normal.
As of Wednesday, 199 inmates and 139 staff members have tested positive for the virus, nearly triple the number of cases that existed inside the prisons a week ago.
The increasing number of cases and the death of an inmate this week prompted advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and families to again double down on their call for the Lamont to develop a plan to release more inmates, faster.
“What is remarkably bad is that we see all of this really positive news of curve flattening outside of prisons,” said David McGuire, executive director for the ACLU of Connecticut. “But when you look at the DOC population, it’s a straight line up. If there was a town that size, there would be a plan in place today.”
“My number one criterion is public health,” he said Monday. “We’re opening up wings of the correctional facilities, making sure those older prisoners, if we find there’s not a safe place for them to be outside of the correctional facility, if we find the safest place for them to be is in the facility under close medical attention that’s where they’ll be. We’re not resting on the status quo, we’re continuing to move people where they’ll be most healthy and safest.”
A spokesman for the Department of Correction did not return a request for comment about the pace of inmate releases and details of its plan for keeping inmates safe.
Connecticut’s overall prison population has been on a steady decline since March 1, hitting another record low Wednesday and dipping below 11,500.
Advocates and families were angered but unsurprised by the results of the investigation into the state’s dwindling prison population, and said the results confirmed what they had already suspected: that the rate of release wasn’t the source of the overall decline.
“I had thought that it would be higher just given the pandemic, so I was quite saddened by that,” said Kenyatta Thompson, lead community organizer for the Katal Center, an advocacy organization that has organized protests and called on Lamont to release inmates at a higher rate.
“For a long time a number of us had been watching the numbers drop, and we knew it wasn’t necessarily attributed to COVID-19 since the decline started on March 1 but the governor did not talk about releasing incarcerated people until more recently,” Thompson said. “We had presumed these numbers were not related to COVID, but we didn’t have the exact data.”
Melvin Medina, public policy and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which has filed a lawsuit against the state demanding a plan for the broad release of inmates, said he’s heard anecdotally from families that few people who thought they would qualify for an early release have actually been granted the opportunity.
“Everything matched up with what I was hearing from family members about a lack of clarity and I think that, to me, is probably what’s most frustrating,” Medina said.