With over 500 inmates and staff testing positive for COVID-19, there’s concern that people in Connecticut prisons are at high risk.
One 80-year-old man incarcerated in a medium-security prison had a lawsuit filed on his behalf to get immediate release.
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David Terwilliger is currently serving time at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.
“If he got COVID-19 he would die – he just would not make it,” said Mary DeSalvo, Terwilliger’s daughter.
DeSalvo wants her father released now.
“He has heart problems,” DeSalvo said. “He has respiratory health scarring in his lungs.”
She said she doesn’t talk to her father on the phone from Osborn because he’s deaf.
“The sickness in there has been spreading like wildfire -- I mean that’s how he’s communicated it to us in letters,” DeSalvo said.
State data showed that on Tuesday, a COVID-positive inmate at Osborn was transferred to an isolation unit at a different Connecticut prison. As of April 8, inmates who test positive are to be sent to Northern Correctional Institute, according to the state Department of Correction.
Terwilliger, who in 2011 was convicted of manslaughter, isn’t eligible for parole. On April 7, he learned of his community release eligibility. Since he hasn’t been let out yet, his attorneys sought emergency relief by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus Tuesday.
He’s represented by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Terwilliger served in the United States Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy.
“With every passing day, our client's life is in greater and greater danger and we urge Connecticut to do the right thing and release him to his family before his incarceration really becomes a death sentence for him,” said Cara Newlon, a second-year law student at Yale.
Newlon’s colleague Molly Petchenik, also a second-year Yale Law student, wants DOC officials to be transparent about any policies adopted to mitigate inmate exposure to COVID-19. She said all she knows is what she found out from Terwilliger: that some people are wearing masks.
“We’re really worried about a lot of the people who are still stuck inside without a clear route to get out even when they pose no danger,” Petchenik said.
Mary DeSalvo wants the state to release her father into her custody so she can take care of him where she lives in Georgia. But that's unlikely -- the state Department of Correction said he'll be placed instead in a halfway house.
“The agency is currently evaluating program options for the most appropriate setting,” said Andrius Banevicius, a spokesperson with the Connecticut DOC. “In line with Commissioner Cook’s direction, his release has been prioritized based on age and medical score.”
As of Wednesday night, 321 inmates in Connecticut had been diagnosed with COVID-19.