Judge to hear arguments about virus in Connecticut prisons

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A federal judge is set to hear arguments this week in a lawsuit that attempts to force the state of Connecticut to take new measures to protect prison inmates from the coronavirus.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton will hold the hearing by video conference next Friday.

The ACLU of Connecticut is asking the court to order emergency actions that could include releasing more inmates to protect them from the pandemic.

Dan Barrett, the ACLU of Connecticut’s legal director, said the organization is upset that many inmates, including some who are most at-risk for catching the virus, are still being housed in dormitories where social distancing is impossible.

“The DOC’s reactive, backward approach to COVID-19 has made Connecticut prisons and jails among the most dangerous, unhealthy places anyone could be during this pandemic,” he said.

On Friday the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, which houses inmates in both dormitories and cells, was locked down after 105 asymptomatic inmates tested positive for the coronavirus.

The move came after the Department of Correction began testing all staff and inmates. A total of 617 of the prison’s approximately 1,060 offenders were tested. Of the 339 results returned so far, 105 have been confirmed positive for COVID-19.

Results are still pending from the remaining 278 tests.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, names five plaintiffs, including several housed in dormitories with risk factors including hypertension, hepatitis and HIV.

The state Department of Correction said it has taken steps to limit exposure to the virus, including placing prisoners who have tested positive in isolation at the maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution for 14 days. Department spokeswoman Karen Martucci said inmates in dorms are also required to wear face masks.

She said the department is expediting the release of inmates who meet eligibility requirements, including having suitable housing and programs to be released into.

“We have to strike a balance taking into consideration both public health and public safety,” she said.

As of Friday, the state reported 598 infections among inmates and 369 among Correction Department staff. Six inmates have died of COVID-19 related issues. The department says 444 inmates have recovered from the virus and returned to their original housing units.

A similar lawsuit was struck down last month in state court.

State Superior Court Judge Barbar Bellis found the department’s actions “do not rise to the level of a conscious disregard of an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.”

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