In a federal class-action lawsuit filed on March 14, 2022 on behalf of more than 30,000 people, two state residents are suing Governor Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong to eliminate Connecticut’s prison debt law, under which every person incarcerated by the State of Connecticut owes the state hundreds of dollars for each day they spent in prison.
Teresa Beatty and Michael Llorens, represented by attorneys from the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut and Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg, & Knuff LLC, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of all people owing prison debt to Connecticut by virtue of having been incarcerated by the state on or after October 1, 1997, including all people who are currently incarcerated in Connecticut prisons and jails. The lawsuit challenges Connecticut’s prison debt law under the excessive fines clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Nearly twenty years ago, from 2000 to 2002, Ms. Beatty was incarcerated for drug charges. Today, Ms. Beatty is a certified nursing assistant, a Stamford resident, a mother and grandmother, and a caretaker for her older brother, who is disabled. In 2020, her mother passed away, leaving Ms. Beatty a portion of the home where Ms. Beatty, her brother, and her family live. Once that home is sold, Ms. Beatty will desperately need her inheritance to put a roof over her and her family’s heads. Yet shortly after her mother’s death, the State of Connecticut came after Ms. Beatty, demanding $83,762.26 for her time in custody, including when she was incarcerated pre-trial because she could not afford bail.
Ms. Beatty’s case is not unique. Under Connecticut’s prison debt law, the state currently charges people $249 per day, or $90,885 per year, for the cost of their incarceration – more than what an in-state student would owe for 2.5 years’ attendance at UCONN, including housing, food, and books. This debt follows them for decades, decimating inheritances from deceased loved ones, proceeds from lawsuits (even for harms done to them by the State in prison), and, ultimately, anything a person leaves upon their death. Because of current and historic systemic racism, this prison debt disproportionately falls on Black and Latinx people in Connecticut, serving as another mechanism for preventing the accrual of intergenerational wealth among people of color.