A settlement was reached in a federal lawsuit between the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and the state which would take measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons.
Two lawsuits were filed since the emergence of coronavirus: one federal and one state. If approved, the settlement reached on Sunday in the federal McPherson v. Lamont case will provide guidelines for prisons in CT to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The ACLU of Conecticut said they are seeking to make changes in Conn. Department of Correction prisons to protect people who are incarcerated from becoming infected.
The agreement will require the DOC to prioritize elderly and medically vulnerable people for release programs. It will also lay out certain hygiene and sanitation practices.
Under the agreement, the DOC is required to:
- Identify people age 65 and above and people at a medical risk scale of 4 or 5 and fast track those people for consideration for release.
- Stop imposing punitive measures such as loss of housing status, program access, work assignments or phone privileges because someone has tested positive or is presumed positive.
- Provide regular access to showers with running water, including for people who have tested positive or are presumed positive.
- Institute and follow a system-wide cleaning schedule.
- Distribute antiseptic cleaning supplies for people to be able to clean their areas if they wish to.
- Provide people with disinfectant to wipe down phones between uses.
- Test all people who are incarcerated, dependent on individualized informed consent.
- Ensure people have least at two free bars of soap at all times.
- Ensure people have at least two clean and functional masks at all times.
Under the agreement, a five-member panel of experts will be tasked with reviewing the DOC’s ongoing response to COVID-19 and making recommendations.
“People who are incarcerated are people, with human rights, dignity, and healthcare needs. It is critical for the State of Connecticut to protect people who are incarcerated from COVID-19, and it is our hope these new measures will protect people from COVID-19 while also treating them with dignity,” said Dan Barrett, the ACLU of Connecticut’s legal director and an attorney on the case.
While the ACLU of Conn. believes the settlement is a step in the right direction, they also believe more needs to be done to protect people who are incarcerated.
“Because this agreement falls short of our goal of widespread releases, the ACLU of Connecticut remains committed to using every remaining advocacy tool at our disposal to push for people who are incarcerated to be safely, thoughtfully released from prisons and jails,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut.
Conn. leaders issued a statement following the announcement of the settlement.
“This settlement affirms the approach that the Department of Correction has been taking since the beginning of this pandemic. The department will continue to act in this responsible manner as identified by the court and by this settlement," Governor Ned Lamont said.
“We are pleased the parties were able to work together to resolve these difficult issues collaboratively and with the best interests of all involved," Attorney General William Tong said.
“I am pleased about the agreement. Both parties came to the table with mutual interest in codifying practices that best protect people who are incarcerated and the dedicated employees that care for them. Unity and collaboration will always prevail. Today is an example of that, Commissioner Rollin Cook said.
"This has been an unprecedented time in our country and I am most proud of how our staff and leaders have selflessly performed their essential duties to ensure the health and safety of those entrusted to our care," Cook continued.
The agreement is pending approval from a federal judge. If the case is accepted by the court, the agreement would resolve both state and federal lawsuits.
Under the agreement, the federal court will conduct a fairness hearing which will allow incarcerated people in Conn. the chance to state their positions regarding the agreement.
If accepted by the court, the agreement would run until Dec. 31, 2020.