Release: Community Groups, Faith Leaders, and Lawmakers Demand Action from Governor Lamont as the COVID-19 Crisis Grows in CT Prisons and Jails

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 26th, 2020

Contact:

Yan Snead, ysnead@katalcenter.org | (518) 360-1534

 

Community Groups, Faith Leaders, and Lawmakers Demand Action from Governor Lamont as the COVID-19 Crisis Grows in CT Prisons and Jails

 

Amid the COVID-19 Crisis, Governor Lamont Refuses to Take Action to Save Lives by Releasing People and Preventing the Further Spread of the Virus in Connecticut Jails and Prisons

 

Hartford, CT – Today, a group of directly impacted members of the community, juvenile justice advocates, faith leaders, and lawmakers convened for a digital press conference to discuss the COVID-19 public health crisis in Connecticut jails and prisons. Directly impacted people, constituents, and lawmakers have for weeks demanded that people be released from jails and prisons in the face of the COVID-19 crisis (examples here and here). Yet, as reported on March 24th in the CT Mirror, Gov. Lamont has responded to these demands by refusing to release people – substantially increasing the likelihood of spread and death by COVID-19 in state jails and prisons. 

Jails and prisons are notorious incubators of contagions, due to close quarters and unsanitary conditions, making it impossible for people inside to effectively follow the CDC guidelines of social distancing and regularly washing hands and sanitizing in order to prevent the spread. Both New Jersey and New York have begun releasing people from jails and prisons to mitigate the spread, and around the country, other counties and states are doing the same, including those in ArizonaFloridaIowaIllinoisOhioWashington State, and more. 

Release of people from jails and prisons – like those detained pretrial, those detained on technical violations of probation or parole, elders and the sick, and those close to the end of their sentences -- is a critical step in stemming the spread of the COVID-19 and protecting the health and well-being of individuals incarcerated, correction officers, and everyone within the state. Substantial epidemiological research shows that over-incarceration increases the contagion rates of infectious diseases and infectious disease deaths – both for people incarcerated and for the larger community. 

At the press conference, speakers addressed Lamont’s dangerous reluctance to protect kids and adults in Connecticut prisons and jails, and reiterated recommendations to address to the urgent COVID-19 crisis in Connecticut, including:

  1. Immediately release as many people in custody as possible;
  2. Implement a moratorium on new admissions into jails and prisons;
  3. Produce and implement evidence-based, humane and rights-affirming measures to protect the health and wellbeing of the individuals who will stay behind bars.

Speakers called on Governor Lamont to act swiftly and aggressively to decarcerate Connecticut jails and prisons to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 within the Connecticut Department of Corrections, as cases begin to increase and the lives of people inside are threatened. Without action, people will needlessly die. 

 

Statements from Connecticut impacted community members and constituents, and grassroots groups:

 

Senator Gary Winfield (D- New Haven), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, said: “This state is staring into the face of numerous potential deaths. What we do right now. How well we develop and execute a plan to deal with that reality will determine the outcome for the people - the human beings in our system. This is the source of my advocacy around this issue."

Freddy Johansen, currently incarcerated, said, “It’s all business as usual here at Hartford Correctional Center. No measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I fear that I may have a death sentence coming with my compromised immune system, and I haven’t even been convicted of a crime! Something must be done to protect us all now!”

Willie Breyette, who is currently incarcerated, said, “I have an autoimmune disease. I've been trying to see the doctor since July, but I still haven't seen any medical professionals here. And I've been charged 3 times for medical co-pays. The medical co-pay has been lifted in response to COVID-19, but people are still not able to access medical treatment. Even more, all of our inside programs are running. You’ve got 10-20 guys in one room, when the CDC banned gatherings of more than 10 people. Something has to change now to prevent all us incarcerated people from getting COVID-19.”

Cherell Banks, Katal Member said, I know people from my community who have gone from prison to halfway houses. I know how quickly disease can spread in those facilities. Let our people go home. Let our people go free. That includes people who are currently incarcerated, and those who are in halfway houses throughout the state.”

Virginia Rodriguez, fiancé Willie Breyette, and a Katal Member, said, “If Connecticut is part of the regional coalition with New York and New Jersey, why aren't we following in the same footsteps as them when it comes to protecting the lives of incarcerated ones? We have limited mass gatherings everywhere else, except in prisons and jails. Why not free our people to save them? The cost savings of releasing people can be put towards combating COVID-19. We know that the DOC does not have adequate protection. Keeping them inside would be more of a risk than if we were to let them go free. This would give our incarcerated loved ones a better chance of not catching, and spreading, the virus.”

Joshua Frazer, brother of Freddy Johansen and a Katal Member, said, “The measure of a person’s character is not defined by a lifetime of achievement. The measure of a person’s character is defined by their decisions that affect those who aren’t able to fend for themselves in a moment of crisis. I have faith that Governor Lamont will made the right decisions to release those who are incarcerated to slow COVID-19. On that day, and on that day only, will he solidify himself as a politician for the people.”

Christina Quaranta, CTJJA Deputy Director, said: "The path to incarceration for most youth is paved with an extreme lack of access to the same opportunities as their peers in life. It's time to change that by releasing as many young people as possible to ensure their safety and the safety of the community-at-large. During this unprecedented time in Connecticut's history, we must take care of all people, youth especially. And it's inexcusable to leave young people behind bars and in cells, while the rest of the state and world are allowed to prepare and protect themselves from COVID-19."

Dwayne David Paul, Director, Collaborative Center for Justice said: “As a Catholic organization, we rejoiced when Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2012. Now we want Governor Lamont to honor that progress in 2020. There is no social distancing in prison. Governor Lamont must safely reduce the population of Connecticut's jails and prisons before COVID-19 ravages both people who are incarcerated and employees.”

Marco Pujols, Justice Advisor, CT Juvenile Justice Alliance, said: “Governor Ned Lamont should consider the release of youth in this crisis. It is unsanitary, unjust, and unconstitutional to house youth and or any person under these conditions. This is a nationwide pandemic and there should be special actions put in place to ensure the safety of all people, especially incarcerated youth!”

Kathy Flaherty, Executive Director, Connecticut Legal Rights Project, said: "I am providing this statement from quarantine as I am among the people with presumed (not confirmed by testing) COVID-19. Too many people living with mental health conditions end up in our corrections system because they have not been able to access voluntary services and support at the time and in the way that they have wished to engage with them. Our society has chosen to criminalize disability-related behavior and to criminalize survival activities by people living in poverty. COVID-19 presents a particular challenge in correctional environments because of inadequate supply of basics like soap and hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment (PPE), and access to health care. Isolation and quarantine, and effective health care interventions are tools of punishment in this system. Connection to community has become even more limited as visits have been restricted. Phone calls are still limited and are not all free. And now we learn that people inside are making PPE because outside systems can’t get their act together to have the corporations manufacture them.

DOC must be transparent about their plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state’s correctional facilities -- a thoughtful plan to release those most vulnerable to the ravages of this virus. DOC should not and must not wait until there are more cases or until the department becomes incredibly short-staffed. DOC cannot simply release people to homelessness. Other states are taking action, and Connecticut needs to follow their lead and take action urgently."

Brian Merlin, Connecticut constituent and member of Families for Sensible Drug Policy, said: “As the ACLU stated ‘though incarcerated people have a constitutional right to adequate medical and mental health care, the reality is they too often do not have access to it.’ People incarcerated across the state are being held in a dangerous situation by DOC, and one that I fear will potentially kill people over minor offenses or insignificant bail hurdles. I’ve already spoken to Matt Blumenthal and David Michel on the significant danger posed often to people who’ve committed non-violent crimes or those struggling from substance disorder and unable to make bail on what is obviously the kinds of petty possession charges we should be stepping away from prosecuting -- the way New Haven police are now even preaching harm reduction over possession prosecution. It is vital DOC lets non-violent and elderly compromised incarcerated people go under these dire and obvious healthcare outcomes, and if they fail to act with even a minimum of compassion or standard of care for those stuck in a coronavirus death trap, the DOC will ultimately be at fault for ensuring this negligent loss of life.”

Carol Katz Beyer, President, Families for Sensible Drug Policy, said: “FSDP celebrates the leadership of our policy makers in NJ (headquarters for FSDP) who are blazing the trail for other states to follow suit in this landmark decision that has spotlighted an urgent need to address drug policy reform as a path forward to a sustainable public health framework. Mr. Amol Singa of ACLU ED said, ‘unprecedented times call for rethinking the normal way of doing things.’ And in this case, it means releasing people who pose little risk to their communities for the sake of public health and the dignity of people who are incarcerated. No other state is thought to have taken such sweeping action to reduce its jail population in response to the pandemic, and Connecticut should show the nation leadership by releasing as many people as possible.”

Cindy Prizio, Executive Director, One Standard of Justice, said: “The coronavirus does not discriminate. Nor should the DOC in determining who should be able to shelter at home. Just as we are looking to science to help our leaders make decisions about how to keep people safe, the DOC should use actuarially validated risk assessments tools, not crimes, in determining who is eligible. No class of prisoner should be excluded.

Our families and friends are suffering more than usual during this crisis just like all families with loved ones who are incarcerated. We entrust our children, siblings and spouses to the DOC and expect them to come out whole. Social distancing is for everyone, that’s why the prison and jail population must be reduced. Based on tough on crime sentencing over the past decades people have been incarcerated for very long sentences. Many are over the age of 40 and  pose no more risk than the general public. It has been encouraging to see Americans including CT citizens step up to help each other, to show compassion during this difficult time. OSJ asks for that compassion to be shown to all people, not some of people some of the time. When did equal protection under the law change?”

Mary Kay Villaverde, Connecticut constituent and Board  Member of Families for Sensible Drug Policy, said: “When someone is incarcerated, the family and community are impacted in major ways. Families suffer emotionally, mentally, physically and financially. Let’s not add to that, the fear of a death sentence or further medical problems because cautionary healthcare measures were not taken as our loved ones were IN DOC CUSTODY -- many only incarcerated because of technical violations or inability to raise bail, also disproportionately represented by black and brown constituents. This is about  the safety of our loved ones, but also the staff as well, and the communities they go back to everyday. Other states are taking drastic steps during these drastic times -- Connecticut needs to get on board.”

Jordyn Wilson, Justice Advisor, CT Juvenile Justice Alliance, said: “Governor Ned Lamont needs to ensure incarcerated youth are considered in his decision to release people from CT jails and prisons. While many organizations are focusing solely on adults, we need not forget the very vulnerable population of youth that are unfortunately patiently waiting to be exposed to COVID-19. Hartford Juvenile Detention Center has already had an exposure to their facility and it’s only a matter of time before other youth facilities under DOC and CSSD have the same. We urgently ask Governor Lamont to ensure CT’s most vulnerable youth are supported and able to transition back to their safe environments where their needs can be met safely and fully.”

Abby Anderson, Executive Director, CT Juvenile Justice Alliance, said: “Why does it take for a pandemic to happen for everyone to realize that we need to release youth, and provide them with necessary resources to succeed? Some of the major things we have been trying to bring attention to are being talked about by lots of people. ‘Are we releasing youth from prisons/jails/facilities?’ and ‘Are we supplying them with the proper resources they may need when they are released?’ My biggest fear is, youth being released and not having the proper resources needed to succeed, for example: housing security, education, or proper finances. I feel that now with COVID-19, people are finally realizing how important those things are. If we are going to discharge youth, we need to focus on the things they were lacking prior to detainment, and things they need when being released. The state needs to work together to supply them with these resources. It should not have to take for the nation to be in a crisis, for everyone to realize that people need help and that each youth needs an individualized plan to be safe in their community. If our leaders can reach into funds, and help small businesses, major corporations and people who are unemployed, they should be able to reach into funds and help our youth.”

The Yale Chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said: “The Yale Chapter of SSDP strongly encourages Governor Ned Lamont to take decisive action to protect the most vulnerable communities in Connecticut during this pandemic, particularly incarcerated people and people who struggle with substance use. Governor Lamont should release as many incarcerated people as possible for their health and safety, and the health and safety of the public. We contend that people should not be incarcerated for drug offenses in the first place, and this provides an excellent opportunity to release them. Governor Lamont should also relax community supervision in Connecticut. No one should be penalized for technical violations of probation or parole during this time of crisis.Governor Lamont should also ensure that all addiction treatment providers abide by the new SAMHSA guidelines for methadone and buprenorphine prescriptions. Allowing patients to take home a long term treatment supply will keep treatment center traffic low, protecting the public from infection and protecting patients from losing access to their lifesaving medication. 

We join the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice in calling on Governor Lamont to protect our most vulnerable.”




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