Partnering with the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut (“ACLU”), Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg, & Knuff LLC (“HSSK”), filed a federal class-action lawsuit today on behalf of more than 30,000 people, seeking to have Governor Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong eliminate Connecticut’s prison debt law, under which every person incarcerated by the State of Connecticut owes the state hundreds of dollars for each day they spent in prison.
Teresa Beatty and Michael Llorens bring the suit on behalf of themselves, and all people owing prison debt to Connecticut by virtue of having been incarcerated by the state on or after October 1, 1997, including all people who are currently incarcerated in Connecticut prisons and jails. The lawsuit challenges Connecticut’s prison debt law under the excessive fines clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Nearly twenty years ago, from 2000 to 2002, Ms. Beatty was incarcerated for drug charges. Today, Ms. Beatty is a certified nursing assistant, a Stamford resident, a mother and grandmother, and a caretaker for her older brother, who is disabled. In 2020, her mother passed away, leaving Ms. Beatty a portion of the home where Ms. Beatty, her brother, and her family live. Once that home is sold, Ms. Beatty will desperately need her inheritance to put a roof over her and her family’s heads. Yet shortly after her mother’s death, the State of Connecticut came after Ms. Beatty, demanding $83,762.26 for her time in custody, including when she was incarcerated pre-trial because she could not afford bail.
Ms. Beatty’s case is not unique. Under Connecticut’s prison debt law, the state currently charges people $249 per day, or $90,885 per year, for the cost of their incarceration – more than what an in-state student would owe for 2.5 years’ attendance at UCONN, including housing, food, and books. This debt follows them for decades, decimating inheritances from deceased loved ones, proceeds from lawsuits (even for harms done to them by the State in prison), and, ultimately, anything a person leaves upon their death. Because of current and historic systemic racism, this prison debt disproportionately falls on Black and Latinx people in Connecticut, serving as another mechanism for preventing the accrual of intergenerational wealth among people of color.
“I am speaking out because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through. It’s not just about me, it’s about the tens of thousands of people coming out after me,” said Teresa Beatty.
“Once people have earned the chance to be part of society after incarceration, they should have the opportunity to support themselves and their families. Connecticut’s prison debt law flies in the face of the idea that someone has paid their debt to society after lawfully serving their prison sentence. It is unconstitutional and morally abhorrent. Anyone who cares about social justice should care about this issue,” said David Slossberg of Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg, & Knuff LLC.
“Connecticut’s prison debt laws inflict a form of extreme punishment that locks people, especially Black and Latinx people, into unbelievable debt that can haunt them and their loved ones even after their deaths. The law also rewards the state’s own bad behavior by collecting money from payouts in prison brutality lawsuits and funneling that money right back into the general fund. In effect, Attorney General Tong and Governor Lamont are presiding over a debtors’ prison,” said Dan Barrett, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut legal director and an attorney on the case.