New Haven-based civil rights attorneys, Alexander Taubes and Gabriel Lopez Low, have called for the return of their client, Kevin Harris, to Connecticut amid reports of dangerous conditions in the Arizona prison system where he is currently held. In a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Angel Quiros, Lopez Low alleges that in addition to lack of proper medical care and the generally poor conditions of his confinement, Harris’ First Amendment rights have been violated.
Harris was transferred into the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) in July 2021. Harris had been incarcerated in Connecticut prisons since 1996 after being convicted of murder. The state of the ADCRR has been the subject of recent headlines after a federal judge ruled that the healthcare system within the prisons was “plainly grossly inadequate”.
The letter by Lopez Low alleges that Harris was subjected to a lack of medical care, stating that Harris has an injury that requires a catheter, but was not provided by ADCRR. Harris also had a fractured hand that was left untreated, according to the letter, and other injuries sustained during attacks by prison gangs who target him due to his status as an outsider.
“The correctional officers have not provided the protection that Mr. Harris is owed as a ward of the state,” Lopez Low wrote. “Recently, State legislators in Arizona discovered that correctional officers had been wearing officially sanctioned patches with gang symbolism and Nazi iconography. The fact that this came from leadership within ADCRR demonstrates the deep problems within the organization that put individuals like Kevin Harris at risk.”
In addition to the lack of medical care, when Harris was transferred, DOC failed to send his medical records along with him, according to Lopez Low, resulting in “drastic” weight loss as ADCRR did not respect Harris’ documented food allergies. The problem was eventually corrected.
The First Amendment issue raised in the letter stems from the alleged reason why he was transferred to Arizona.
“People in DOC don’t like him,” Taubes said. “It’s because he practices a religion they don’t approve of, really, because he’s insistent his religious rights be protected.”
Harris has also been isolated as a result of being transferred to Arizona. Prior to being relocated, Harris would receive weekly visits from his wife and children, according to the letter, but his confinement on the opposite end of the country has made that impossible.
“The treatment of the people in our prisons is a reflection of our society,” Lopez Low wrote. “ Connecticut is rightly investing resources into making our prisons safer and more rehabilitative so that the men and women in custody will have the opportunity to be productive members of society when they are released.”
“By passing this responsibility to another state, which has clearly failed to provide for the care and treatment of their inmates, the Connecticut Department of Corrections has itself failed to provide the care for those entrusted to their care”
Lopez Low sent the letter in late December 2022 and requested a response and a status update from Gov. Lamont and Commissioner Quiros within 30 days but, according to Taubes, they have not heard back from either office.