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Press Release: #FreeThemNowCT Action at the Capitol

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Katal Center Equity, Health, and Justice 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

Contact:  

Yonah Zeitz, yonah@katalcenter.org | (347) 201-2768

Follow on Twitter @KatalCenter | ##FreeThemNowCT

 #FreeThemNowCT Campaign, Community Groups, Families, and Directly Impacted People Rally Outside the Capital to Demand Lawmakers Protect Incarcerated People from COVID-19

Lawmakers and Governor Lamont Cannot End Session Without Developing a Substantive and Transparent COVID–19 Plan for Jails and Prisons 

Hartford, CT—  Today, family members of incarcerated people, community groups, and impacted residents gathered at the State Capitol in Hartford – on the last day  of the legislative session – to demand the Connecticut legislature develop and pass a comprehensive and transparent plan to address COVID-19 in jails and prisons in Connecticut. For the third straight year, lawmakers have delayed developing  a substantive plan to protect incarcerated people. If Connecticut lawmakers end this year’s session without addressing COVID-19 in jails and prisons, they are continuing to subject incarcerated people to heightened risk of illness and death. 

For over two years, Governor Lamont has failed to address the crisis in prisons and jails, leaving incarcerated people in harms way. COVID cases continue to spread in correctional facilities in Connecticut, especially with the highly transmissible Omicron BA.2 variant. As of May 2, nearly 90% of the CT state jail and prison population have tested positive for COVID-19, totaling almost 8,500 people in state jails and prisons. This infection rate is significantly higher than the general population in the state, with around 20% of the general population having tested positive for COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, public health experts have repeatedly affirmed that the number one way to protect incarcerated people and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is further decarceration. 

Without action from lawmakers, COVID-19 will continue to spread throughout Connecticut jails and prisons, disproportionately impacting Black, brown, and poor people. Ninety-five percent of all incarcerated people in Connecticut jails and prisons will return home, which means that more than 8,300 people in our state correctional institutions will return home after having COVID-19, with some still recovering from long COVID. We have a duty to protect incarcerated people and their loved ones, and that begins by getting people home instead of in an unsanitary, congregate setting like a jail or prison.

Given that Black and Latinx communities are being hit particularly hard by COVID-19, and are also disproportionately incarcerated in CT prisons and jails, inaction on COVID-19 in prisons and jails will just exacerbate the impact of the pandemic on people of color in our state. Since the onset of the pandemic, 29 incarcerated people have passed away from COVID-19 thus far. This is unacceptable. Without action, there will be more preventable deaths.

Statements from Katal members, family members of people incarcerated in Connecticut, and allies:

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “We’re here on the last day of the legislative session to demand that lawmakers develop a comprehensive and transparent public health response plan for COVID-19, and future public health crises, in the Department of Corrections. The more than 8,400 incarcerated people who have tested positive for the virus, and those who lost their lives to the virus while in DOC custody, underscore the urgency to develop such a plan, something Governor Lamont has refused to do. Since the pandemic began, community members, groups, and public health experts have called for Governor Lamont and the legislature to develop a clear, coherent plan for reducing the impact of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, including the rapid release of people from jails and prisons. Governor Lamont has continued to disregard the recommendations of community groups, public health experts, and family members of those incarcerated, and state lawmakers must step in and pass meaningful legislation to direct the DOC to protect lives in a pandemic. SB 460 is woefully inadequate without significant amendments. Without action from legislators this session to amend SB 460, it is clear there will be more needless deaths in the DOC due to COVID-19.”

Barbara Fair, Organizer with Stop Solitary CT, said: “What legislators and other leadership across this state must come to grips with is the fact incarcerated people are people and they have loved ones who are extremely concerned about them losing their lives within a carceral system that has yet to acknowledge and respect their humanity.  A system with no thoughtful plan for saving their lives almost 3 years into the pandemic. A system in which over 20 people have died of COVID19 without a whisper of their names. We demand that you Free Them Now!”

Tiffany Minakhom, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “We’re here today because our lawmakers haven’t actually come up with a plan to protect incarcerated people more than TWO YEARS into the pandemic. I work with primarily 14-17-year old KIDS who are both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, so I know what goes on.  Our state leaders must lack empathy for incarcerated people, their families, and their loved ones, or else this plan would have been created years ago. We shouldn’t be here demanding on the last day of session that they do something for incarcerated people, but here we are. State leaders have a responsibility to protect incarcerated people, and develop a comprehensive and transparent COVID-19 plan that includes decarceration. And we aren’t going anywhere until they Free Them Now.”

Alicia Strong, Co-Founder of the New Britain Racial Justice Coalition, said: “Black and Brown folks—and poor people of all races—are disproportionately impacted by incarceration. That’s why we firmly believe freeing people from prison, and providing them with transitional support is a step towards true racial and economic justice in Connecticut. Legislators must Free Them Now, and do more work in the upcoming sessions to ensure that there is a plan in the DOC.”

Lynn Ofori, member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “After two years, it’s offensive that Connecticut still doesn’t have a comprehensive and transparent COVID-19 plan for the DOC. The horror stories in the DOC are enough to show that the DOC can’t safely and with dignity care for incarcerated people during this pandemic. We need a comprehensive and transparent public health response plan for this pandemic, and for future health crises. There’s going to be new spikes of COVID, the flu, and other public health issues. This plan will be the blueprint and should include provisions that guarantee adequate PPE, decarceration, and more. We’re demanding that lawmakers Free. Them. Now.” 

Claudia Cupe, Community Leader, said: “I know first-hand why Connecticut needs a comprehensive and transparent plan for COVID-19 in the DOC because I have two loved ones who are incarcerated. They tell me about the nonsense that’s going on behind prison walls that most people can’t see. The DOC isn’t safe for anyone, especially right now as they scramble trying to handle the pandemic, and they’re fumbling the ball. They don’t have proper PPE for people, they use watered-down blue ‘cleaning’ products, and they don’t have proper social distancing. There have been 29 deaths under the Governor’s watch – we say no more! We demand that legislators develop this plan before more people get sick and die.”

Liv Rinkes, member of Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “My mother caught COVID-19 early in this pandemic. She didn’t just get COVID-19 and feel better like some people, but now she’s living with LongCOVID. She had to stop working, has trouble doing things she normally would do, and now her daily life is totally different than it was before. Think about those who are incarcerated – the Department of Corrections didn’t provide quality health care for incarcerated people pre-pandemic, and we know the situation is worse now during the pandemic. We’re subjecting thousands of incarcerated people to the same situation as my mother because jails and prisons spread viruses like a wildfire. We’re in the middle of COVID-19 now, but there are other things that can be transmissible in cramped, congregate places like correctional facilities. Legislators need to develop a plan for COVID-19, and for future public health crise. That also includes addressing the health needs of those who are incarcerated and taking steps to decrease the prison population. That’s why we’re here to demand that they Free Them Now!”

Alex Brown, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “Governor Lamont has failed to protect incarcerated people by not developing a real COVID-19 plan. #FreeThemNowCT is asking for lawmakers to take action towards decarceration, and protect our loved ones. People are dying in our prisons and jails, these are real human beings; peoples’ mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, peoples’ children. We need to #FreeThemNowCT!”

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