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'They're Just Literally Waiting To Die': Veterans Advocacy Groups Push For Prison Release

Prison cells
Courtesy of Pixabay

Local and national advocacy groups want Connecticut to release veterans held behind bars during the pandemic. The groups sent a letter to Governor Ned Lamont and the state Department of Correction on Veteran’s Day explaining why.

Advocates nationwide say people behind bars are at high risk for coronavirus because of lack of social distancing, hygiene and health care. Garry Monk, an Air Force veteran who leads the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, said the situation is even riskier for imprisoned veterans because they tend to be in an older age group. 

“This is akin to leaving a veteran on the battlefield," Monk said. "It really touches me down to my heart. I’m sure other veterans feel the same way, you have a brother or sister incarcerated and they’re just literally waiting to die. So this needs to be taken care of immediately. This is imminent.”

Monk said the pandemic has also triggered PTSD in his peers. He wants Connecticut to make it easier for detained veterans to access mental health care and legal advice. The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale agrees. Rhea Christmas is a law fellow. She wants the governor and corrections officials to hear veterans’ demands.

“We would like a meeting. We want this to be resolved in a way that’s best for everyone, and especially the incarcerated veterans,” Christmas said.

Christmas said her law clinic and the ACLU asked Connecticut corrections officials to release high-risk inmates at the start of the pandemic. She said one veteran has been released since April.

The Connecticut Department of Correction and the Governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.