The ACLU of Connecticut filed a federal class action lawsuit on April 20, 2020 on behalf of all people incarcerated in Connecticut prisons and jails, seeking emergency action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) facilities. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two classes: people whom the State of Connecticut is incarcerating pre-trial, and those the State is incarcerating post-sentence.
The complaint details ongoing COVID-19 mismanagement by the DOC that exacerbates the danger of contraction for people living and working in Connecticut prisons and jails, including: lack of social distancing, inadequate or nonexistent access to hygiene and cleaning supplies, inadequate or nonexistent access to personal protective equipment, lack of access to medical care, and transfers of people who test positive to and from the state’s “supermax,” Northern Correctional Institution.
Representing the classes in the lawsuit are five people:
- Tre McPherson, whom the State is imprisoning pretrial at Bridgeport Correctional Center for lack of a $5,100 bond, in an open dormitory with 57 other men. Mr. McPherson recently lost his sense of smell, and others in his dorm are reporting symptoms of illness.
- Pattikate Williams-Void, whom the State is imprisoning pretrial at York Correctional Institution, who is over the age of 60, has hypertension, and has been diagnosed as pre-diabetic.
- John Doe, who is serving a sentence of incarceration, is above the age of 70, is HIV positive and hepatitis C positive, and requires regular dialysis for kidney disease. In disregard of these risk factors, the State is incarcerating Mr. Doe with a cellmate.
- John Roe, who is serving a sentence of incarceration, is above the age of 50 and is HIV positive. In disregard of these risk factors, the State is incarcerating Mr. Roe in an open dormitory with more than 90 other people, sleeping in bunkbeds in close proximity to one another.
- Thomas Caves, who is a serving a sentence of incarceration at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, where DOC healthcare workers recently strongly criticized the state’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak. Mr. Caves shares showers, phones, and common space with more than 80 other men housed in his unit. One person who contracted COVID-19 and fell ill in Mr. Caves’ unit was simply locked in his cell, with his cellmate, for 15 days.
“The DOC’s reactive, backward approach to COVID-19 has made Connecticut prisons and jails among the most dangerous, unhealthy places anyone could be during this pandemic. The DOC’s response has exacerbated the crisis and threatens public health as a whole,” said Dan Barrett, ACLU of Connecticut legal director and an attorney on the case. “Incarcerated people are in grave and immediate danger in DOC facilities, and Governor Lamont and Commissioner Cook have a constitutional and moral responsibility to move them out of harm’s way, including by compassionately releasing people. The numbers and stories coming out of Connecticut prisons and jails paint a horrific portrait of people left by Cook and Lamont to suffer and potentially die in a pandemic. We are asking the Court to do what they have failed to do and protect incarcerated people now.”
“The State of Connecticut got rid of the death penalty, so why are people who are incarcerated being left now to risk their lives? People have to pay the price of what they do, but no one should have to pay this risk. They are still human. Their lives are really important. These are fathers, brothers, people who can give back to the community. The State of Connecticut is waiting until it’s too late. Families of incarcerated people don’t want this to be a recovery. This should be more of a rescue," said Shaquima Dozier, whose fiancé, not a named plaintiff, is currently incarcerated by the State.
The lawsuit asks the Court to order Governor Ned Lamont and DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook to safely release medically vulnerable incarcerated people and to create a plan to protect any people who remain incarcerated, including a plan for release if socially distancing remains impossible.
Joining the ACLU of Connecticut in representing incarcerated people are Brandon Buskey from the national ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, and Dechert LLP attorneys Will Sachse, Jonathan Tam, Jenna Newmark, and Gabrielle Piper from the firm’s Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco offices.