HARTFORD – A federal court has ruled that Teresa Beatty can sue to end Connecticut’s prison debt law, under which people incarcerated by the State on or after October 1, 1997, could owe hundreds of dollars for each day they spent in prison. The court also ruled that Ms. Beatty must substitute a different set of state defendants in order for her lawsuit to proceed.
Ms. Beatty inherited a portion of her mother’s estate, but Connecticut showed up in probate court demanding that Ms. Beatty pay the state for a prison term she served twenty years prior. When Ms. Beatty filed a federal lawsuit to free herself from the unconstitutional debt, the state claimed that Ms. Beatty couldn’t contest the legality of the prison debt scheme. Today the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut disagreed, holding that the threat of Ms. Beatty losing her inheritance “is certainly impending and also that there is a substantial risk that harm to her will occur by means of the loss.”
In that ruling, however, the court determined that Ms. Beatty may not sue the Governor or Attorney General but must instead name a different defendant by April 6, 2023.
“Connecticut’s prison debt law is unconstitutional and deeply cruel. We look forward to the next steps in defending Ms. Beatty’s rights, and the rights of all people who have been or may be subjected to this archaic and harmful law,” said Elana Bildner, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut and an attorney on the case.
Nearly twenty years ago, from 2000 to 2002, Ms. Beatty was incarcerated for drug charges. Today, she is a certified nursing assistant, 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. 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.
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.
Ms. Beatty is 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