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Family Members of Incarcerated People & Community Groups Hold Protest and Speak Out at Hartford Correctional Center, Demanding Governor Lamont Address COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons
With over 1600 Incarcerated Individuals Testing Positive for COVID-19 and the Virus Continuing to Spread, Governor Lamont Must Develop a Comprehensive Plan that Will Immediately Release Incarcerated People to Save Lives
Hartford, CT – Today, dozens of family members of incarcerated individuals and community groups convened outside of the Hartford Correctional Center for a protest and speak-out to demand Governor Lamont address the issue of COVID-19 in correctional facilities. As the pandemic continues to spread across the country, correctional facilities make up some of the worst outbreak sites of COVID-19 in the country. Currently, there have been over 180,000 COVID-19 cases reported for incarcerated individuals across the country and new infections this week reached their peak, surpassing the spikes inside correctional facilities that occurred over the summer.
In mid-October, there was a COVID-19 outbreak in Hartford Correctional Center, and 56 incarcerated people tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, the number of positive cases has grown to 191 incarcerated individuals, underscoring how the inaction of Governor Lamont continues to put incarcerated individual’s lives in threatening danger. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase across Connecticut, we know that jails and prisons are notorious incubators of contagions due to close quarters and unsanitary conditions. Every day that the Governor does not act means incarcerated individuals remain at heightened risk.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 1,686 incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19, and 7 incarcerated individuals have passed away across Connecticut jails and prisons due to the virus. Katal along with community groups, public health experts, and family members of those incarcerated have called on the Governor to use his executive authority to develop a comprehensive plan that saves lives and addresses COVID-19 in prisons and jails. Katal has repeatedly requested a meeting to discuss these concerns and on September 28, Katal sent a letter to Governor Lamont demanding a comprehensive plan. Governor Lamont did not respond to the letter and has refused to meet with families and community members most impacted by the risks of COVID-19 behind bars. Governor Lamont must act now to save the lives of his incarcerated constituents, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx.
Governor Lamont must take the necessary preventive measures to release incarcerated individuals and build a comprehensive plan for COVID-19 to save lives and keep his constituents safe. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a major report calling for large-scale releases and decarceration to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 which directly aligns with demands set forth by family members of incarcerated people and community groups across the state.
Throughout the protest, constituents spoke about Governor Lamont’s outrageous reluctance to protect the individuals in Connecticut prisons and jails by developing a comprehensive and transparent COVID-19 plan for the DOC. Directly impacted family members and constituents demanded that the Governor take swift and aggressive action to decarcerate Connecticut jails and prisons in order to continue to flatten the curve of COVID-19 within the Connecticut Department of Corrections and save lives. Without action, there will be more needless deaths.
Statements from Katal members, family members of people incarcerated in Connecticut, and allies:
Tiffany Minakhom, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Although no environment created to detain a human being will ever be safe, it is up to us to remind Governor Lamont that it is his duty to keep us all safe. The Governor has the power to prevent deaths caused by coronavirus but he has failed to do so. We demand that he release individuals who are currently incarcerated, and implement a plan for their safe return back to our community with the proper wrap around services they need!”
Lisa Puglisi, Director of Transitions Clinic-New Haven, said: “The critical importance of decarceration in response to COVID-19 cannot be underestimated. Recent research from a team at Yale and Stanford showed that in addition to following basic sanitation guidelines, reduction in the population of a large jail reduced the transmission of COVID by over 50 percent. Single celling and testing of asymptomatic individuals was found to be important as well. Research has also shown that many chronic conditions place people at risk for worse outcomes with COVID-19 and we know that the incarcerated population is disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions. Compassionate release is an underutilized release mechanism in our state, with less than a handful of people released yearly, and we suggest that every incarcerated person who is a medical level 4 and 5 be systematically reviewed for meeting the broadest criteria of compassionate release, such as those used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons which focus on decreased functional status. We are fortunate in our state to have a network of primary care programs, the Transitions Clinic Network, that has offered to help coordinate all complicated medical discharges back to the community.”
J.W., Member of the Katal Center, said: “It’s impossible to socially distance in prisons and jails where there’s perfect conditions for the spread of COVID-19. As a society, we need to do all we can to preserve life and find alternative solutions for people who are at risk, especially when they have supportive homes ready to accept them. The Governor needs to implement a comprehensive COVID-19 plan now.”
Christina Quranta, Incoming Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said: “It is unconscionable that nine months into this crisis, we are still detaining youth and exposing them to unnecessary risk inside our state’s prisons and detention facilities. Governor Lamont must create, in collaboration with health experts, a comprehensive plan to release detained youth and to provide them with the resources, support, and access to healthcare necessary to weather this pandemic. Kids don’t belong in prison, but now, more than ever, it’s vital that we allow our young people to be safe in their communities with their family members.”
Julia Rosenblatt, Member of the Katal Center, said: “We are out here in the cold today because Governor Lamont and the Department of Corrections have spent 9 months refusing to address COVID-19 in jails and prisons. Far too many people continue to suffer in sub-par conditions. We demand a systematic plan to begin the release of incarcerated people to stop the spread of this deadly disease!”
Dwayne David Paul, Director of the Collaborative Center for Justice, and Chair of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance criminal justice team, said: “Connecticut cannot afford to continue to ignore the rights of its imprisoned residents and the communities to which they will return. As people of faith, we believe that the state has a responsibility to respect the dignity of all its people.”
Tenille Bonilla, a Justice Advisor with the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said: “It’s important for Governor Lamont to create and implement a COVID-19 plan for jails and prisons because there’s a higher risk of people contacting COVID within the facilities. They are already not receiving the same health treatment as those outside of the facilities, and as state prisons and jails utilize solitary confinement during the pandemic, that has a negative impact on a person’s mental health. People in jails and prisons already deal with these issues, and the fears of COVID-19 adds to that. This is important for young people especially because their mental struggles are probably worse than older folks, as they’re actively dealing with transitioning into adulthood and incarceration. We needed a comprehensive COVID-19 plan months ago, and we need it even more now.”
Andre McGuire, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I have been told about someone who has no empathy or compassion for the human dignity of all Connecticut residents. Then someone told me about an individual who has absolutely refused to do anything to preserve and protect the lives of those in prison or in county jail. This person is Governor Ned Lamont who has refused to take action to ensure that our loved ones are cared for. We are still here and we are not going anywhere until we have a comprehensive COVID-19 plan in our state prisons and jails.”
Claudine Fox, Campaign Manager with the ACLU-CT, said: “The DOC is failing to comply with the COVID-19 health precautions required by the court in our lawsuit settlement, and its compliance is getting worse just as COVID-19 rates spike again. The DOC is not taking even mandatory COVID-19 precautions seriously, including basic fundamentals around hygiene, sanitation, and safety. The best way to protect public health for people who live and work in prisons and jails remains releasing people who are incarcerated. Governor Lamont cannot keep ignoring and endangering incarcerated people, 70% of whom are Black and Latinx, by leaving them in prisons and jails during COVID-19.”
Lynn Ofori, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The Governor must protect all of Connecticut’s residents, and treat everyone with respect and humanity. What he has currently done defies his commitment to treating all residents with respect and humanity. What we need is a fully fleshed out COVID-19 plan in our state prisons and jails. Without one, there will only be more sickness and death.”
Tiheba Bain, Executive Director of Women Against Mass Incarceration, said: “Governor Ned Lamont… let our people go! We have been demanding for months that they be released, and still you have done nothing. Their blood is on your hands! Women in particular face unique challenges in the criminal justice system– keeping them locked up as COVID-19 runs through the prisons and jails in Connecticut is inhumane. The lives of incarcerated people matter; they are people to! We demand you create a comprehensive COVID-19 plan now.”
Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “As Connecticut and the country face another rising wave of COVID-19, with all the numbers climbing back up into alarming territory, we have still heard nothing, nothing at all, from Gov. Lamont about how he plans to address this crisis in jails and prisons in our state. It’s shameful and inhumane. Systemic racism is a major preexisting condition shaping the impact of COVID and the COVID response in our state. We know Black and Latino are people dying of COVID at higher rates than other groups, just as we know that Black and Latino people are criminalized and incarcerated in CT at higher rates than other groups. But we don’t hear anything about this from Governor Lamont. That’s why people are here today in the cold, in front the Hartford Correctional Center, to make sure our friends and family members inside know we’re here for them, and to call on Lamont and other state leaders to take action now to save lives.”