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Families demand a plan to stop COVID spread in prisons

Protesters erected this display on the lawn of the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Wethersfield. Each headstone represents someone who died of COVID-19 while incarcerated in Connecticut.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Protesters erected this display on the lawn of the Department of Correction headquarters in Wethersfield. Each headstone represents someone who died of COVID-19 while incarcerated in Connecticut.

Supporters of incarcerated people gathered in front of the Department of Correction (DOC) headquarters in Wethersfield Wednesday to demand that the Lamont administration and the DOC “develop a comprehensive and transparent plan to address COVID-19 in jails and prisons in Connecticut.”

They say that conditions for incarcerated people – who are disproportionately Black, brown and poor – are leaving them “in harm’s way.”

“The DOC isn’t doing anything to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Kenyatta Muzzanni, director of organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, a social justice community organization.

Muzzanni quoted a statement from an incarcerated person at the Cheshire Correctional Institution: “We haven’t had hot water for weeks in the prison – it feels like a petri dish in here, the cleaning staff don’t have PPE and use diluted cleaning supplies, and the medical staff don’t sanitize before or after clients – they don’t even wear gloves to take blood. The COs even misuse the COVID-19 guidelines to keep people in their cell for longer.”

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at Katal Center Equity, Health, and Justice, speaks before protesters gathered in front of the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Wethersfield to demand Governor Lamont and the DOC protect incarcerated people from COVID-19.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Kenyatta Muzzanni, director of organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, speaks before protesters gathered in front of the Department of Correction headquarters in Wethersfield to demand that Gov. Ned Lamont and the DOC protect incarcerated people from COVID-19.

Another supporter, Claudia Cupe of Enfield, came to the demonstration to support her two cousins.

“[The DOC is] co-mingling the negative people with the positive people, and that is just not safe for my loved ones that is incarcerated,” Cupe said.

Stefan Napoleon voiced concern about his 68-year-old grandmother, who he said was in jail for a DUI.

“She was supposed to go to a court hearing, but she had COVID so she couldn’t go, and now she has to wait out another month to go to court,” Napoleon said. “She has her vaccines, but she never had COVID until she went to jail. It’s crazy.”

According to Katal, as of Aug. 28, more than 90% of the state’s jail and prison population has tested positive at one point for COVID-19, totaling almost 9,700.

Early in the pandemic, experts from the School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and School of Public Health at Yale urged the Lamont administration to put a plan in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 among the incarcerated population.

In a written statement, the Department of Correction said it continues efforts to minimize the spread of COVID, including mass bi-weekly testing and offering vaccinations. The DOC said the positivity rate for the state’s incarcerated population remains “below the positivity rate in the greater community.”

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at Katal Center Equity, Health, and Justice, leads protesters into the streets in front of the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Wethersfield to demand Governor Lamont and the DOC protect incarcerated people from COVID-19.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Kenyatta Muzzanni, director of organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, leads protesters into the streets in front of the Department of Correction headquarters in Wethersfield.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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