Whitted v. Easter

About the Case

On April 27, 2020, Dianthe Martinez-Brooks, ReJeanne Collier, Jackie Madore, and Kenneth Cassidy filed a class-action complaint in federal court on behalf of more than 1,000 people detained at a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut (“FCI Danbury”) based on the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP’s) failure to provide basic protections for those imprisoned at the facility and failure to release from custody or to home confinement those individuals who face a heightened risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

People imprisoned at FCI Danbury are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. They live in close quarters, with some units containing more than 100 people lined up in rows of bunk beds, and with communal bathrooms and dining areas. Public health experts unilaterally agree that congregate settings such as prisons pose significant public health concerns due to the risk of rapid spread of infection. Not only that, but access to medical care at FCI Danbury is woefully inadequate, and there have been significant delays in getting critically ill prisoners transported to local hospitals.

On May 12, 2020, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) ordering the BOP to expedite consideration of home confinement for all medically vulnerable individuals at FCI Danbury. Home confinement means that incarcerated individuals can safely serve their sentences from home while remaining under the continued supervision of the BOP. The parties thereafter reached a class-wide settlement agreement that guarantees expedited home confinement review for all medically vulnerable individuals in accordance with the TRO issued by the Court. On August 11, 2020, the Court certified the proposed class identified in the Settlement, consisting of medically vulnerable individuals as defined by the CDC, issued an Order of Notice to the Class, and appointed us and co-counsel as Class Counsel (ECF No. 141). On September 18, 2020, the Court approved the class action settlement agreement. The government also provided a “comfort letter” from BOP to class-counsel containing certain non-binding commitments about conditions at FCI Danbury—although conditions at the facility are not subject to the enforceable settlement. The agreement lasts through October 2021, and the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic is now in the process of enforcing that agreement.

On December 7, 2020, class counsel went back to district court to enforce a provision of the settlement agreement that requires the BOP to quickly release all individuals granted home confinement.

The case is brought by the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, the law firm of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP, and the Civil Justice Clinic at Quinnipiac University School of Law.

Conditions at FCI Danbury

Concurrent with the Settlement Agreement in this case, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) made a set of commitments in a July 24, 2020 letter, aimed at ensuring basic medical care for those in its custody at FCI Danbury and at preventing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the facility. The BOP promised to abide by these commitments during the pendency of the Settlement Agreement, which lasts through October 2021.

In November 2020, class counsel learned that the BOP was failing to engage in basic preventative measures to control the potential spread of COVID-19 at FCI Danbury. Specifically, the BOP was failing to screen daily for COVID-19 symptoms and for high temperatures. The BOP was also failing to provide critical medical care to individuals in its custody—including failing to provide adequate prenatal care to a pregnant woman, failing to treat a diabetic man with severe retinopathy who is losing his eyesight, and failing to transport a woman with masses that have grown and spread over her body for scheduled oncological consultations—and failing to follow treatment recommendations of physicians. Class counsel sent multiple letters to the United States Attorney’s Office detailing these and other concerns, and has raised these concerns with the federal court overseeing the Settlement Agreement.

In two weeks in early December, the number of individuals at FCI Danbury with COVID-19 went from 0 to approximately 100, or over a tenth of the incarcerated population.

Students with the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic in the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, the Civil Justice Clinic at Quinnipiac University School of Law, and the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law are monitoring the conditions at the facility.