by Kevin W. Bliss
When an apparently intoxicated prisoner allegedly assaulted a guard at Connecticut’s largest prison on June 13, 2023, the lockup was put on lockdown. It was at least the third time this year that a state Department of Correction (DOC) prison was shutdown.
The first incident also occurred at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (CI). After prisoners registered over 50 new COVID-19 infections in just two weeks, Warden Daniel Dougherty placed the prison on lockdown on January 7, 2023. It wasn’t lifted until over two weeks later. DOC said that more than 700 state prisoners and 659 staffers tested positive for the disease in December 2022 and January 2023.
Then on May 19, 2023, New Haven CI went on a lockdown that lasted three days. DOC officials did not say what sparked the investigation that prompted it, however.
Connecticut’s 13 active prisons – five more are shuttered – hold some 10,000 prisoners. Over 30 have died from COVID-19 since March 2020. Civil rights activists blame inattention to prevention. “They don’t have proper cleaning items to clean their cells with, they don’t have proper PPE [personal protective equipment], they don’t have hand sanitizer, they don’t have paper masks,” said Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice activist Claudia Cupe. “They don’t have any of the stuff that we have out here.”
The COVID-19 surge early in the year also affected staffing levels. Though only 58% of employees got the initial vaccination for the disease, the local union complained that in addition to demanding schedules guards were forced to place their families at risk of infection. Collin Provost, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 391, said that has “a major effect on the psyche of individuals day in and day out.”
But state auditors reported in December 2022 that at least 35 DOC employees had abused a program intended to provide temporary shelter and lower the risk of transmitting infection to their families. Instead, about $144,000 in hotel night stays were used by employees for wedding stays and New Years Eve celebrations. Some lived in hotels up to six months.
DOC announced no criminal charges, but it said several employees were ordered to repay the cost of rooms improperly charged to the agency. Offered Provost, “I don’t think that anybody knew the parameters of the program right off the bat when it first started.”
Sources: Connecticut Insider, Connecticut Mirror
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