HARTFORD – Two new plaintiffs last night joined Beatty v. Lamont, a lawsuit seeking to eliminate Connecticut’s “prison debt” law, under which the state forces people it incarcerated to pay hundreds of dollars for each day they spent in prison. In an amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, Natasha Tosado and Douglas Johnson describe the ways in which they and their families have been harmed by Connecticut’s law.
Natasha Tosado of Hamden is a mother, licensed pharmacy technician, and mentor to women and children experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. Natasha was incarcerated from July 2016 to April 2018. On May 9, 2017, while Natasha was incarcerated, Bridgeport police officer James Boulay shot and killed her 15-year-old son, Jayson. In 2020, the administrator of Jayson’s estate, in cooperation with Natasha and Jayson’s father, filed a lawsuit against the City of Bridgeport and James Boulay. In December 2022, the City agreed to pay Jayson’s estate to settle the lawsuit, and Natasha was to receive a portion. Now, the state is attempting to keep part of that settlement from Natasha under its prison debt law.
“No family should have to bury a child, and the state is making that pain worse,” said Natasha Tosado. “I will never stop grieving Jayson. The settlement in his death was the best acknowledgment we could get that they took his life, and that it was wrong. The state trying to take that money forces me and my family to relive the trauma of Jayson’s death, and it has left me angry and hurt. By joining this lawsuit, I am fighting for myself and for other families, because none of us should have to go through this.”
Doug Johnson of Branford is a husband, father, mason, Alcoholics/Narcotics anonymous sponsor, and active member of the recovery community. Nearly twenty years ago, from February 2002 to March 2004, he was incarcerated. In 2016, Doug’s mother passed away, leaving him a small amount of money, which the state took a portion of for “prison debt.” In 2021, Doug’s father passed away, leaving him and his brother $10,000 and some cherished family heirlooms: a boat that’s been in their family since 2007, land and a cabin in North Guilford that has been passed on for over fifty years, and a truck that their father used to drive. Doug was going to use his share of the money to help pay for his daughter’s college tuition, and he and his brother hoped to keep his father’s boat, truck, and land to remember their father and make new family memories. Now, the state is attempting to charge Doug $74,652.58 for “prison debt,” which would force him and his brother to sell those items.
“I went to prison at 22, served my time, and got out at 24 years old. I have been sober since the day I went inside in 2002,” said Doug Johnson. “I paid the price for my actions dearly when I lost my freedom, and I thought my debt was paid. Nobody told me that 20 years down the line, the state would be asking me and my family to pay the price again. It’s bad enough that the state is harming me, but by trying to take our family’s land, it’s also hurting my brother and defiling my father’s wishes. I’m part of this lawsuit to make my and other families’ voices heard, because the state’s prison debt law puts us in impossible situations.”
Teresa Beatty remains a plaintiff in the case. In March, a federal court ruled that Ms. Beatty can sue to end Connecticut’s prison debt law. The court also ruled that Ms. Beatty must substitute a different set of state defendants in order for her lawsuit to proceed. In addition to new plaintiffs joining Ms. Beatty in the lawsuit, today’s court filing changes the defendants to Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Michelle Gilman and Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros. The amended complaint also outlines how the state’s “prison debt” scheme operates, including that thousands of people remain at risk of having their or their loved one’s possessions taken by the State under the law.
“Ms. Beatty, Ms. Tosado, and Mr. Johnson have shown tremendous courage in speaking out for themselves and all formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones. Connecticut’s prison debt statute is cruel and unconstitutional. Because of systemic racism in the criminal legal system, prison debt also disproportionately hurts Black and Latinx people in our state. It’s high past time for Connecticut to end prison debt,” said Dan Barrett, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut legal director and an attorney on the case.
“Connecticut’s prison debt statute has been hurting families for more than a generation. It is morally wrong and runs afoul of the Constitution. When someone dies, they should be able to leave their possessions to the people they love. Again and again, the State of Connecticut has ignored people’s last wishes and ripped away inheritances from grieving families, all in service to a fine that is excessive, arbitrary, and inhumane,” said David Slossberg of Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff, LLC and an attorney on the case.
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. While May 2022 legislative amendments narrowed the ways in which the state may collect money, Ms. Beatty, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Tosado, and thousands of others are still on the hook.
Ms. Beatty, Ms. Tosado, and Mr. Johnson are represented by lawyers from Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff, LLC and the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut.
For more about the case: https://www.acluct.org/en/cases/beatty-v-lamont