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ACLU Sues Connecticut, Seeks Release of Low-Risk Inmates Vulnerable to Coronavirus

— April 7, 2020

The ACLU has filed a half-dozen similar lawsuits across the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut is requesting an emergency court order that would release vulnerable and low-risk inmates from state custody.

According to The Hartford Courant, the ACLU believes releasing prisoners en masse is the only way to slow the spread of novel coronavirus within the corrections system.

Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country. Several complaints—including those covered by LegalReader—have taken pains to stress that the move isn’t simply to protect inmates. Rather, an outbreak in prison can have reverberate throughout the wider community, with corrections staff and administrators as likely to be infected as those they guard.

In its complaint against Connecticut, the ACLU alleged that any failure to protect inmates from the pandemic could be a constitutional violation.

“People who are incarcerated in Connecticut are in imminent danger from COVID-19,” said ACLU-Connecticut legal director Dan Barrett. “The longer Connecticut fails to act to protect them, the closer our state comes to a deadly and unconstitutional disaster.”

The prison system, says the ACLU, is particularly susceptible to a coronavirus outbreak—yet remains dangerously unequipped to do so.

An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via
An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via

As The Hartford Courant reports, COVID-19 is already making its way through the state’s prisons. Last Friday, at least eight inmates and a dozen guards had tested positive for the disease—and that’s despite Connecticut now housing fewer prisoners than any time in the past twenty-five years.

To ensure the disease’s spread is curbed, the ACLU demands immediate release “to a hospital or appropriate medical facility” for prisoners particularly susceptible to coronavirus. Furthermore, the ACLU wants to see the Connecticut Department of Corrections release low-risk inmates, along with those who’re in custody for “technical” violations of their probation or parole.

Similar to suits filed in other states, the lawsuit also wants prisoners whose sentences are done within six months to be released.

To ensure the state’s meeting its obligations to inmates, the ACLU wants Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and state Corrections Commissioner Rollin Cook to prepare and publish a plan to improve hygiene standards, social distancing, and health care facilities for inmates who remain behind bars.

However, Connecticut doesn’t seem too willing to accede. A spokesperson for Lamont said that, while the state’s unwilling to comment on pending litigation, it has taken steps to mitigate a potential disaster.

“The administration is reviewing the lawsuit and will not comment on pending litigation at this time,” they said. “All measures taken during this public health emergency have been to maximize public health outcomes wherever possible, especially inside our corrections institutions in the interests of both staff and incarcerated individuals.”

And the ACLU, too, has commended the state for its efforts—but says the measures being implemented within prisons are either inadequate or being enacted too slowly.

“Defendants’ interventions to date are commendable, but unfortunately insufficient to comply with their constitutional and statutory obligation to ensure the safety of those in their custody,” the suit states.


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