HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A judge in Connecticut has ruled that officials at the federal prison in Danbury are not moving fast enough to protect inmates from the coronavirus and has ordered authorities to implement a process by Friday to move as many prisoners as possible to home confinement.
U.S. District Judge Michael Shea in Hartford issued the order Tuesday in a class-action lawsuit filed by four Danbury inmates, who say prison officials are not taking seriously a directive in early April from Attorney General William Barr to maximize transfers to home confinement.
Congress gave prison officials authority on March 27 to transfer inmates to home confinement to protect them. The four Danbury inmates, three women and a man, all have health conditions that place them at greater risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19.
“The four inmates ... have made a preliminary showing that officials at FCI Danbury are making only limited use of their home confinement authority, as well as other tools at their disposal to protect inmates during the outbreak,” Shea wrote in his ruling, “and that these failures amount to deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to inmates in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
At Danbury, the Bureau of Prisons says 75 inmates and 57 staff have contracted the virus, and one inmate died. The prison houses about 1,000 inmates.
The Bureau of Prisons said in a statement Wednesday that it does not comment on pending legal cases. The agency added it immediately began a review of which inmates are suitable for home confinement in response to U.S. Barr's directives. Barr's April 3 directive specifically referred to the Danbury prison and federal prisons in Oakdale, Louisiana, and Lisbon, Ohio.
Prosecutors said the inmates presented a “distorted picture” of efforts at the Danbury prison to protect prisoners, saying prison officials have made “significant efforts” to respond to the virus.
As of Wednesday, the number of COVID-19-associated deaths had risen by 84 since Tuesday to 3,125. The number of hospitalizations, however, has continued to decline. It's now 1,158 patients. Gov. Ned Lamont, who said he was tested as a precaution on Tuesday, said his results came back negative.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
In other coronavirus related developments around Connecticut:
Lamont said Wednesday he’s not inclined to allow restaurants to offer indoor seating before June 20, the second possible reopening date in Connecticut. The first stage is set for May 20, when restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining at 50% capacity.
“I’m going to err on the side of caution,” the Democrat told reporters during his daily briefing.
His comments come as a coalition of local businesses and associations urged him to allow indoor dining at 50% capacity, beginning June 3. The Connecticut Restaurant Association has argued that limited outdoor seating will not be enough to financially sustain the state's restaurant industry.
The coalition has proposed extra steps Connecticut restaurants will take if they're allowed to offer limited indoor seating as well, such as expanded distance between tables, new technology for menus and payment so there's less indirect contact between patrons and servers.
But state Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, who operates Cohen’s Bagel Co. in Madison, said she's heard from other restaurant owners who are concerned about the upcoming May 20 reopening date. She said they fear not having enough personal protective equipment for their employees and items such as hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, Plexiglas dividers to protect cashiers and required touchless payment methods in place.
The Connecticut Air National Guard will conduct a statewide flyover Thursday to salute the state's health care workers.
The guard's C-130H aircraft are expected to fly above hospitals and other health care facilities beginning shortly after 11 a.m. beginning in Torrington, and ending shortly before 1 p.m. in Enfield. Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard, said it's a way to show “appreciation to the thousands of heroes at the front line battling COVID-19.”
Lamont said Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts have hired Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm, to help with the states' reopening efforts.
“They are the glue that helps us think about how as a region we’re going to do this and we can learn best practices from each and every one of our neighboring states," he said.
Lamont said as his advisory group, dubbed Reopen Connecticut, winds down, the consultants are “going to help us with all those same metrics, be it on testing, be it on the protocols for opening up, so we can collect the best information from all of the other companies and practices in the region and learn from it.”
Lamont acknowledged Connecticut plans to spend about $2 million on the consulting services. He said the cost will be reimbursed by the federal government as a COVID-19 related expense.
The chairman of the Connecticut Republicans urged Lamont to scrap the contract and instead rely on locally elected officials while Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano criticized Lamont for hiring a consultant “in the dark to be the state's ‘control tower’ on one of the most significant issues ever to face our state.”