Concerns over a COVID-19 outbreak in the state’s adult prisons and juvenile detention centers grew Wednesday after an employee at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center and a second Department of Correction staff member tested positive for the virus.
Several days after a Department of Correction employee in Newtown tested positive for COVID-19, another employee at a separate facility, the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville, was confirmed to have the illness. That employee last reported to work on March 21 and had been scheduled to work March 25, but they called out and later reported a confirmed case of COVID-19.
A news release notes that the employee’s five previous shifts “required minimal interaction with the offender population.” No other staff member or incarcerated person at that penitentiary have tested positive for the virus.
Officials with the Judicial Branch also confirmed an employee at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center has COVID-19. The Department of Public Health indicated that other staff do not need to be quarantined, a spokesperson for the Judicial Branch said. Still, some employees have chosen to exercise the paid two-week administrative leave so that they can self-monitor from home.
There are around 70 youths currently being held at the state’s two juvenile detention centers, located in Hartford and Bridgeport, according to the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance.
Detention center employees were told to stay home from work if they have COVID-19 symptoms or a fever, and staff are verbally screened about their symptoms prior to entering the juvenile detention center. The spokesperson said that officials have recommended taking each person’s temperature before they enter the building, and they are coming up a way to implement that recommendation.
The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance released a statement Wednesday calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to come up with a plan to safely release the roughly 140 children in juvenile and adult justice system facilities across the state.
“Adequate social distancing cannot happen in youth secured facilities,” alliance advisor Jordyn Wilson said in the statement. “Frequent hand washing and other forms of hygiene can’t happen in a cell or in solitary confinement. Various Boards of Education are providing distance learning and resources for their students to excel and thrive under these conditions, but we have no information on similar measures for detained and incarcerated youth.”
The alliance did praise the Judicial Branch, which oversees the treatment and placement of minors in the juvenile facilities, for lowering its population in the two juvenile detention centers during the pandemic. But according to Abby Anderson, the alliance’s executive director, those decreases aren’t enough.
“The governor has to call for an inter-agency, cross-governmental response, to create an individual plan for each young person, so they can be released safely into the community, with everything that they need,” she said.
She stressed that she was not simply asking for the detention centers’ and prisons’ doors to be thrown open, but wanted the governor to come up with a thoughtful, comprehensive plan that ensures children can access the services they need while sparing them from exposure behind bars, away from their families.
“This just emphasizes what we know,” Anderson said. “That where they are is not a safe environment, and it’s getting less safe by the day.”
Sen. Gary Winfield, a criminal justice advocate and co-chair of the state’s Judiciary Committee, said the two new confirmed cases in the juvenile and adult justice systems underscore the need for a public plan to deal with a potential outbreak among the state’s incarcerated populations.
“We knew we were going to see this happen, and we’ll see more of it.” said Winfield, D-New Haven. “My concern hasn’t increased, because it was expected.”
Winfield said he will continue to advocate for a public plan to mitigate the spread behind bars and to ask about the amount of personal protective equipment available to employees and those entrusted to the care of both the Department of Correction and Judicial Branch.
“That’s what is going to be the thing that helps us mitigate the transmission in the two systems,” Winfield said. “You can clean all you want, you can separate as much as you want, but if somebody walks right in and their body is a carrier, it goes wherever they go.”