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Federal inmates settle lawsuit over coronavirus precautions

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Federal inmates in Connecticut have agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing prison officials of not doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus, including transferring vulnerable prisoners to home confinement.

Notice of the agreement involving inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury was filed in U.S. District Court in Hartford on Monday and must be approved by a judge.

The settlement calls for the Bureau of Prisons to promptly identify inmates who are medically vulnerable to the coronavirus and release them to home confinement, said David Golub, a lawyer for the prisoners, who also were represented by the Quinnipiac and Yale law schools.

The lawsuit was filed in April, at the height of the pandemic in Connecticut, by four inmates, including three women and a man, claiming prison officials were not taking seriously a directive by Attorney General William Bar to maximize transfers to home confinement. The suit sought to protect all medically vulnerable inmates.

Since the pandemic began, 89 inmates and 61 staff at Danbury have recovered from the virus, and one inmate died, according to the Bureau of Prisons. As of Tuesday, one staff member was infected, but no inmates were infected. The prison houses about 1,000 inmates.

“We are gravely concerned about the well-being of people incarcerated at FCI Danbury during this pandemic,” said Quinnipiac law professor Sarah Russell, who also represented the inmates. “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.”

In May, U.S. District Judge Michael Shea ruled prison officials were not moving fast enough to protect inmates and ordered them to implement a process to move as many prisoners as possible to home confinement.

About 400 prisoners in Danbury have been identified as medically vulnerable as part of that process, including many who have since been released to home confinement or community placement, Russell said.

In a statement, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham commended the Bureau of Prisons and Danbury prison staff for containing the outbreak and said the settlement preserves coronavirus protections already in place at the prison.

Last week, a federal judge approved a settlement of a similar lawsuit filed by inmates in Connecticut state prisons.

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