Clinic Class Action Filed Against Federal Bureau of Prisons

A class action lawsuit was filed on April 27, 2020 in federal court in Connecticut seeking to require federal officials to provide emergency measures to protect the more than 1,000 women and men at the three facilities within the low security federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut (“FCI Danbury”) from COVID-19.

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.

The lawsuit responds to the COVID-19 disaster that is underway at FCI Danbury. The prison has one of the biggest outbreaks in the federal system, and in recent weeks, more than forty incarcerated people and more than thirty staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Many more are likely positive, but the Bureau of Prisons is not reliably releasing that information and, worse yet, for some time stopped testing, according to the lawsuit.

“FCI Danbury’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is not just unacceptable, it is callous and unlawful,” said Clinical Associate Professor of Law Marisol Orihuela ’08. “The conditions at Danbury are recklessly placing individuals’ lives at risk, and prison officials must be forced to take action immediately.”

“Public health experts uniformly agree that prisons are hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 that require prison officials to take swift action to protect the lives of those in their custody,” said Quinnipiac University School of Law Professor Sarah Russell ’02, one of the lawyers representing the proposed class. “FCI Danbury has completely disregarded these warnings, placing incarcerated people at an unbearable and unconstitutional risk of contracting the disease.”

The people imprisoned at FCI Danbury are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. They live in close quarters, with units containing more than 100 people lined up in rows of bunk beds, and with communal bathrooms and dining areas. Many are experiencing serious symptoms, including high fevers and difficulty breathing, but have not been tested or removed from these crowded living areas. Access to medical care in the facility is woefully inadequate, and there have been significant delays in getting critically ill prisoners transported to local hospitals, according to the lawsuit.

FCI Danbury contains a women’s “camp,” the lowest level security facility in the entire federal prison system. Yet, despite the ability to release low-level prisoners, those incarcerated at FCI Danbury remain in dangerous living conditions virtually certain to promote the spread of COVID-19 through the Danbury prisoner and staff populations.

The lawsuit asks the federal district court to order that the Bureau of Prisons immediately identify prisoners who are medically vulnerable and can be safely relocated to home confinement, as Attorney General Barr has directed, and to provide safe and humane conditions for those imprisoned at FCI Danbury.