By Paul Bass | New Haven Independent | May 1, 2020
The state has at least 1,500 prisoners it can immediately release from behind bars during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep them, and everyone else, safer, in the view of Justin Farmer.
Farmer, a Hamden Legislative Council member who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 17th State Senate District seat, called Wednesday for the state to release all prisoners who have less than a year left on their sentences, who are awaiting trial in detention, are veterans with mental-health problems, or are geriatric. He said 1,500 to 1,700 current prisoners fit that bill.
Speaking during an interview on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven,” Farmer noted that Covid-19 is spreading faster among corrections officers and inmates in Connecticut prisons than in the general population. Three inmates have died.
“If too many COs get sick,” that spreads the disease throughout the state’s general population, Farmer noted. He said prisoners do not deserve a death sentence through Covid-19, and that their infections also spread out through corrections officers.
Releasing the prisoners also would open up space to socially distance inmates remaining in prison, he said.
Several public-interest legal groups have sued the state seeking more releases, so far to no avail. (A prominent New Haven figure with a private attorney, Rabbi Daniel Greer, was temporarily released, on the other hand, based on a Covid-19 plea; the judge who ordered his release criticized the state prison system’s response to the pandemic.)
Jorge Cabrera, Farmer’s opponent in the quest for the Democratic nomination, said Wednesday he would support the release of nonviolent offenders based on a process that includes a reentry plan with housing, employment, and mental health and family support. He said releasing people who committed violent crimes like murder “would give me pause.”
Farmer said that data shows that older inmates and those at the tail ends of their sentences pose less of a risk to society — while, he argued, the risk to public safety is greater from the spread of Covid-19.
“The governor has not moved the way he needs to” in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 behind bars, Farmer argued.