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Friday, December 11, 2020
CJAC Wins Speedy Release of Medically Vulnerable Individuals from Federal Prison in Danbury
On December 11, 2020, in the Whitted v. Easter class action, a federal court ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to release 17 medically vulnerable individuals currently incarcerated at FCI Danbury, the sole federal prison in Connecticut. Despite a settlement agreement that requires the BOP to release those approved for home confinement within 14 days absent a public safety rationale for holding them longer, these 17 individuals — some of whom were granted release months ago — remained incarcerated based on administrative roadblocks. That will change with the Court’s order. The plaintiffs are represented by the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic (CJAC) at Yale Law School.
“We are heartened by the Court’s urgency in granting relief for our clients under the Settlement Agreement and for recognizing that the BOP has failed in its commitments made in the Settlement Agreement, which directly impact the well-being of more than a dozen medically vulnerable individuals who have satisfied every condition required of them to return home,” said Zal Shroff, cooperating counsel with CJAC and a Senior Fellow at the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law.
The order, which was issued on December 11, 2020, requires the BOP to release 17 medically vulnerable individuals by 5 p.m. on December 12, unless special circumstances exist to make safe travel arrangements. The order also prohibits the BOP from relying on administrative roadblocks to delay the release of those granted home confinement, and orders the BOP to report to class counsel when it expects to fail to release individuals granted home confinement within 14 days.
The order from the court followed a lengthy hearing on December 10 during which the court heard evidence about a new outbreak of COVID-19 at FCI Danbury and the BOP’s corresponding failure to prevent and mitigate the spread of the disease. In just one week, the number of COVID-19 cases at the facility spiked, going from zero known cases to nearly 50, according to the clinic. Despite a commitment from the BOP to check daily for symptoms for the duration of the pandemic, including conducting daily temperature checks, the BOP failed to follow this pledge for two weeks during a surge of the disease around the country, according to those working on the case.
“It is simply reckless for the BOP to fail to engage in basic preventative measures at a time when COVID-19 is overwhelming hospitals, killing record numbers of Americans, and devastating the country,” said Marisol Orihuela ’08, Clinical Associate Professor of Law. “CJAC will continue to press on the BOP to ensure the agency doesn’t needlessly put medically vulnerable people’s lives at risk simply because they are serving a sentence.”
CJAC represents individuals and organizations affected by the criminal legal system. CJAC serves as class counsel in Whitted, along with the Civil Justice Clinic at Quinnipiac University School of Law, the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic at the University of Buffalo School of Law, and the law firm Silver Golub & Teitell LLP.
CJAC’s work in Whitted v. Easter is supported by The Millstone Fund for Criminal Justice Reform.