As the COVID-19 crisis continues to grow exponentially, people who are incarcerated in Connecticut prisons are extremely vulnerable, but largely being ignored by the state. Public health experts have sounded the alarm about the need for Connecticut to decrease incarceration as part of the state’s COVID-19 response. Despite consistent calls from the ACLU of Connecticut and other organizations, starting as early as March 10, March 12, March 16, and March 19 (here and here), neither Governor Ned Lamont nor state agencies have made efforts to protect public health by issuing plans to thoughtfully, safely, and quickly release people. While the Department of Correction (DOC) and Governor have done a rhetorical about-face by now claiming they are releasing people, they still have not publicly produced a plan for releases, and they still will not say whether any people were actually released because of COVID-19 (as opposed to other bases).

So many people and agencies in this state have failed to act to protect incarcerated people. What makes this especially infuriating is that under state law more than 100 different state government agencies – including the Governor and DOC – could take steps right now to reduce the number of people who are sitting in prisons, where they are at risk during the pandemic. For example:

This utter failure of coordination and leadership has led to understandable confusion about what the state is doing and also about what incarcerated people and their loved ones can do to seek help.

The list of agencies that could act goes on.

Remembering that most incarcerated people will fall into more than one of these categories, it is clear that state actors in every branch and at every level are failing people imprisoned in Connecticut.

It is not too late for Connecticut’s elected officials and agency heads to reverse course. A first step would be an executive order from Governor Lamont laying out a detailed, thoughtful plan to protect public health by releasing incarcerated people, that considers community safety and gives direction to agencies. If Governor Lamont continues to ignore this problem, though, leaders across Connecticut already have the power to reduce incarceration on their own. They should do so to save lives.

People are not sentenced by the courts to suffer and die in a pandemic. By reducing incarceration to protect prison workers and incarcerated people, Connecticut can secure public health both inside and outside prisons.