Prison reform advocates call on Gov. Lamont to release some prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak
HARTFORD — Advocates for prison reform called on Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday to release at least portions of the state’s prison population following the second positive test for the COVID-19 virus among Department of Correction staff.
In a conference call with Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, advocates who want changes in the justice system, as well as reporters, speakers urged Lamont and the DOC to at least begin forming a plan for release of certain inmates, including those with serious medical conditions, such as cancer and diabetes.
Hosted by the justice reform group Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, speakers called on Lamont to immediately release as many people in custody as possible, stop new admissions into jails and prisons and implement measures that protect the well-being of inmates. The current population of prisoners is about 12,500.
Winfield, the Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he sent a letter to the DOC asking if inmates would be released and how they would be tested for the virus while they were inside. An outbreak in the prisons could be very dangerous and deadly and he questioned the DOC as to what its plan was for a thoughtful release of prisoners. The answer he got back was not responsive, he said.
Virginia Rodriguez, who said her fiancé is imprisoned in Connecticut, said the inmates are not given bleach to clean their living areas and he has seen none of the cleaning inside the prison that DOC claimed was being done. The DOC has said that cleaning is taking place in the prisons during all shifts.
“He said they haven’t wiped anything down in his block for weeks — at all,” Rodriguez said. “Nothing is being sanitized.”
Another speaker urged the prisons to release as many people as possible to ease overcrowding and lessen the possibility of infection spreading.
The guard had “minimal interaction” with inmates in the facility, the DOC said. Earlier this week, an employee assigned to a DOC facility in Newtown also tested positive.
In response to the positive test of the DOC worker, Melvin Medina, the public policy and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said earlier this week that inmates are “sitting ducks in the COVID pandemic.
“The positive test of a Department of Correction worker adds even more urgency to the need for Gov. Lamont to act now to thoughtfully release people who are incarcerated, limit new prison and jail admissions, and reduce the risk for any people who remain incarcerated,” he said.