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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Clinic Reaches Settlement Agreement in Bureau of Prisons COVID-19 Case

The parties in Martinez-Brooks v. Easter have reached an agreement to ensure that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) takes speedy action in reviewing medically vulnerable individuals for release from the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut (FCI Danbury).

The lawsuit was filed on April 27, 2020 by the Legal Clinic at Quinnipiac University School of Law, the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, and the law firm Silver Golub & Teitell LLP on behalf of people incarcerated at Danbury FCI. The lawsuit is being settled on behalf of a class of those who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19, under standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are gravely concerned about the well-being of people incarcerated at FCI Danbury during this pandemic,” said Quinnipiac University School of Law Professor Sarah Russell ’02, one of the lawyers representing the proposed class. “We are hopeful that the process set forth in the agreement will mean more medically vulnerable people will soon be safely home with their families.”  

READ: Settlement Agreement in Martinez-Brooks v. Easter

COVID-19 presents an extreme and well-recognized public health risk in a confined institutional setting where prisoners cannot practice adequate social distancing or necessary hygiene. The lawsuit alleged that BOP failed to make full and sufficient use of its authority to transfer prisoners to home confinement to protect them against COVID-19 at FCI Danbury despite explicit directives from the Attorney General of the United States that it should use that authority aggressively and on an expedited basis to transfer appropriate prisoners to home confinement.

On May 12, 2020 Judge Michael P. Shea of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut issued a Temporary Restraining Order finding that officials at FCI Danbury had been making insufficient use of their home confinement authority to protect prisoners during the outbreak, and ordering FCI Danbury to undertake expedited consideration for home confinement of individuals at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Following Judge Shea’s Orders, BOP initially identified a group of 313 medically vulnerable individuals at FCI Danbury and reviewed them for home confinement release. Of those individuals, 119 have since been released to home confinement or community placement.

“With everything going on in the world right now, I am overjoyed to know that over 100 of our clients have left FCI Danbury, and that many of them have already gone home to their families and communities,” said Brendan Bernicker ’22, a student in the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic, which represented the Petitioners. “I am so proud to have been a part of that, and thrilled that the skills I am learning in the classroom will continue to empower me to make a real difference in people’s lives.”

David S. Golub ’73, another attorney for the Petitioners, noted the importance of the court’s orders. “Judge Shea’s Orders helped ensure that medically vulnerable persons would be immediately identified and released promptly to home confinement whenever feasible. The settlement agreement, which requires BOP to comply with the terms of those Orders in the future, could not have been reached if Judge Shea hadn’t recognized the emergency need to protect these medically vulnerable persons.”

The agreement outlines processes through which the BOP will continue to identify medically vulnerable individuals incarcerated at FCI Danbury or who arrive in the future. Once identified as medically vulnerable, under the agreement BOP will consider the incarcerated person’s suitability for home confinement. A medical clinician either employed or appointed by the BOP will verify that all medical conditions are identified for the home confinement review, and the review process will follow the standards previously ordered by Judge Shea. This includes speedy consideration for release to home confinement and substantial weight provided to each individual’s COVID risk factors. The agreement provides that Judge Shea will retain jurisdiction to oversee the process.

Before the agreement can take effect, Judge Shea will conduct a fairness hearing, which will provide all members of the class the opportunity to state any objections to the agreement. The agreement is tentatively scheduled to terminate on October 31, 2021.