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COVID –19 In Prisons A Community Health Issue In Hartford And Elsewhere

From the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, serious stories about the vulnerability of America’s prison population were being seen across news services including Hartford. In mid-March, the first case of coronavirus was reported at Rikers Island in New York City. Within two weeks 200 inmates were infected. The same growth pattern persisted in Connecticut prisons. By mid-June 1342 inmates (12% of the population) tested positive for Coronavirus. Currently, Connecticut’s percentage of inmates with Coronavirus is one of the worst in the country, 1,507 per 10,000.  Connecticut is one of only six states that counts the pre-trial detainees with the sentenced prison population. How the state responded to the dramatic increase in cases among inmates has been controversial at best.

covid-19 in prisons no social visits
Sign at Hartford Correctional Prison, it reads “No Visits Until Further Notice”

Lock everybody down

The state’s first reaction to the COVID-19 crisis was to lock everybody down. This idea quickly showed some shortcomings. Nobody was notified when a sick prisoner was moved. That oversight caused many prisoners and medical staff to become unnecessarily ill. At one point in April, 20 of 32 Correctional medical staff were out sick.

Quality of life suffered too. Prison life by design is minimally fulfilling or pleasant. Under the lock down protocol, it got much worse.  A Connecticut prisoner, Benny Gray, wrote to the Yale Prison Education Initiative that After 14 days of inhaling COVID-19 aerosols, being housed with no shower, no way to clean my cell, and no phone privileges, I was released back to population only to fall ill days later from the exposure period I was in the COVID-19 quarantine unit”.

That letter resulted in a lawsuit initiated by the ACLU that was settled In July. The settlement didn’t mandate big changes in the Department of Corrections operations. It requires increased monitoring of infected inmates and for facilities to make a decent attempt to return the prisoner to their prior housing, job and programs after quarantine. It provides for increased sanitary conditions including more opportunities for showers and the cleaning of cells. It also fast-tracked some inmates for release.

Early release of elderly and vulnerable prisoners

Although originally designed to allow older and more vulnerable inmates early release, the plan has evolved into a discretionary release program. The program is flawed on many levels. First, many convicted offenders were released back into the community all at once. Coincidently, an increase in violent crime has occurred throughout the state. Statistics from July show Hartford with a 36% increase in shootings. Non-fatal shootings are up 48% in New Haven. Other cities around the state are reporting similar data.

There are health concerns as well. Many asymptomatic prisoners are being released who are not practicing CDC or Connecticut protocols. They are mixing with and infecting the general population. It is no surprise that the communities with the highest infections rates in Connecticut are Somers, Danbury, and Bridgeport. Each community has a large prison within their city limits.

There is one notable exception in the Discretionary Release program. Pre-trial detainees are not being released. They haven’t been sentenced yet; they haven’t even been convicted. You can’t have your sentence reduced if you don’t have a sentence at all.

What to do about pre-trial detainees

The best solution for pre-trial detainees is to get bailed out of prison. For Hartford bail bonds, 3-D Bail Bonds ranks above the pack. They observe all COVID-19 protocols and work to ensure their clients do as well. They have created a “COVID Safe Bail Bonds process” that is highly recommended for everyone in need of bail. They are located conveniently in Hartford and across Connecticut. They walk their clients through the entire police and court process. Affordability is not an issue. They have programs to fit virtually any circumstance or budget.

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