Lawyers representing Connecticut prison inmates say there are “systemic patterns of non-compliance” by state Correction Department personnel with the settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit over COVID-19 in the prisons, especially the failure of department staff members to wear masks.
The lack of mask wearing by staff members appears to be happening at each of the state’s 14 prisons, six lawyers representing the inmates wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to lawyers in the state attorney general’s office representing the Correction Department.
“Nearly every person to provide information to us about the state of affairs within DOC has corroborated this,” wrote the inmates’ lawyers, two from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut and four from the law firm Dechert LLC. They say inmates have estimated that anywhere from one-tenth to half the staff members at each prison don’t wear masks regularly, with some putting on masks only when a supervisor walks by.
The lawyers said the violations are “particularly alarming” given increasing rates of positive tests for COVID-19 in Connecticut and in the prisons, “as evidenced by the recent outbreak at Hartford Correctional Center.”
The Correction Department replied in a statement, “We are not aware that any of these alleged violations have in fact occurred and are currently looking into them.”
The settlement of the lawsuit, reached in July, established a five-member monitoring panel to oversee compliance issues, and the department said the letter from the inmates’ lawyers is being referred to the panel. A majority of the panel’s members don’t work for the department.
One of the numerous allegations in the letter is that inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 “are being placed in conditions that constitute ‘punitive isolation.’ For example, we have heard that people at Corrigan with suspected COVID-19 symptoms are being kept in their cells without any ability to leave” or take showers.
Corrigan is one of the two buildings at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in the Uncasville section of Montville.
The lawyers wrote that they had also received “multiple, consistent reports” that inmates who had yet to receive results of their COVID-19 tests being quarantined with inmates who had tested positive.
The settlement agreement requires that each inmate receive two cloth masks, with the ability to exchange one each week for a new mask if one of the masks becomes damaged. But the inmates’ lawyers wrote, “we have received reports from multiple people who have been wearing the same single mask for weeks (in some cases, months).”
They added that Hartford Correctional Center inmates “have reported that they have been wearing the same masks since August. Some people at MacDougall have reported that they have received only four masks, total, since March.”
MacDougall is one of two buildings in the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield.
The inmates’ lawyers also allege multiple violations of cleaning requirements, such as failure to distribute soap to inmates as required by the settlement agreement, to clean common areas of prisons as required, or to give inmates the ability to clean their cells twice a week.
They also reported that showers are being denied to inmates in quarantine and in restricted housing units. Except at the York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s women’s prison in the Niantic section of East Lyme, inmates at every prison have reported that they aren’t being given cleaning supplies to wipe down phones before using them, according to the lawyers.