State organizations seek prisoner release due to virus concerns

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A number of organizations are calling for Gov. Ned Lamont to release as many state prisoners as possible and place a moratorium on new admissions into prisons during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The groups published an open letter to Lamont calling for urgent action to protect people in the prisons and jails, including employees.

The organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, the Connecticut Bail Fund, the Global Health Justice Partnership, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and Stop Solitary Connecticut. They said more than 20 other organizations and nearly 375 people had also signed the letter.

Stop Solitary: Connecticut hosted a conference call earlier this week to discuss the petition. 

“It is literally impossible to avoid confined spaces and being in very close proximity to other people (in prison),” said David McGuire, executive director of state ACLU.

Barbara Fair, of Stop Solitary: Connecticut, said the prison system has a history of not providing adequate health care to inmates. 

“We can do more than we’re doing,” Fair said during the Monday conference call. 

A state Department of Corrections spokesperson could not be reached to respond. 

The Department of Corrections has suspended all social visits in state prisons. The corrections department is also prohibiting volunteers from entering the institutions, suspending all community inmate work crews, limiting non-essential inter-facility transfers of inmates, suspending all tours of facilities by the public and limiting recreation groups to one housing unit at a time, according to a department notice.

The notice also said that cleaning of facilities is taking place “virtually nonstop” and inmates are being encouraged to practice precautions. 

“We are well aware of the importance of visits to the offender population,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook. “This is a difficult, but necessary decision. We have no choice but to take whatever steps necessary to ensure everyone’s health and safety.”

The department will provide two free phone calls per week for the next 30 days. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.

Twitter: @LaurenSellewRJ

Open letter to Governor Lamont

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