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New Plaintiffs Join Lawsuit Challenging State’s Prison Debt Program

Two plaintiffs recently joined a federal class-action lawsuit seeking to end a Connecticut state law that forces people who are incarcerated to pay for each day they spend in prison.

Natasha Tosado, of Hamden, and Doug Johnson, of Branford, joined Beatty v. Lamont in an amended complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on April 20.

The lawsuit was initially filed on March 14, 2022 by Teresa Beatty and Michael Llorens on behalf of more than 30,000 people who owe prison debt to the state of Connecticut. The complaint seeks relief from the state’s prison debt program, alleging it violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Constitution. It also seeks to permanently enjoin Governor Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong, named as defendants, from being able to enforce the prison debt law.

A state law adopted in 1997 allows the Department of Corrections (DOC) commissioner to adopt regulations to assess inmates for the cost of their incarceration. In fiscal year 2020, people who were incarcerated were charged $249 per day for every day they spent in prison. These fees can also include the cost of pre-trial detention for those unable to afford bail.

Under the regulations, inmates are also responsible for paying the cost of some programs and services, including sick calls and dental procedures. Sums collected from inmates for these costs and services is deducted from the assessed cost of their incarceration.

The law also allows any property owned by an inmate who owes costs related to their incarceration to be used to satisfy the state’s claim, with some exceptions such as property acquired after an inmate is released or property acquired for work performed during incarceration. Prison debt can also be collected from money obtained through a lawsuit, a person’s inheritance, lottery winnings, or from a person’s estate upon their death. The state can seize either the full cost of the amount owed by the inmate or 50 percent of the proceeds, whichever is less.

Money the state receives from collected prison debts goes into the state’s general fund.

According to the initial complaint in Beatty v. Lamont, Beatty, was incarcerated between 2000 and 2002 on drug charges. When Beatty’s mother passed away in 2020, she left 40 percent of the family’s home to Beatty, who lives there with her disabled brother, two of her children, and one of her grandchildren.

The house is valued at $590,000 and Beatty’s share of the house once sold will be $230,000, a sum Beatty says she will need to secure housing for herself and her family.

The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) filed a notice in the probate court stating Beatty owed the state $83,762 for the time she was incarcerated. The amount includes $55,000 for the 452 days between 2000 and 2001 that Beatty spent in pretrial detention because she could not afford bail and $33,515 for her post-sentence incarceration between 2001 and 2002.

The complaint notes that this debt was calculated at a rate of $123 and $122 per day, above the actual assessed rates of $99 and $96 dollars for the years Beatty was incarcerated.

Llorens, the other original plaintiff in the suit, served a three-year sentence for burglary, owing the state $272,655 as a result. Llorens also has a pending brutality lawsuit against the police officers who arrested him, which the state could take either the full amount of the settlement, or half of it, whichever is less, if his suit is successful.

In March 2023, the district court granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that Beatty had not showed they had standing to sue Tong. The ruling also gave the plaintiffs until April 6, 2023 to file an amended complaint.

The amended complaint, which names DAS Commissioner Michelle Gilman and DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros as defendants, was filed on April 20 on behalf of Beatty, Tosado, and Johnson.

Tosado was incarcerated between July 2016 and April 2018. While she was incarcerated, her 15-year-old son Jayson was shot and killed by Bridgeport police officer James Boulay on May 9, 2017. In 2020, Christopher Goulden, the administrator of Jayson’s estate, sued Boulay, another police officer, and the city of Bridgeport. The lawsuit alleged Boulay had used excessive force and that city employees had a “track record of escalating interacts with the public to violent ends.” The defendants in the suit settled in December 2022, agreeing to pay Jayson’s estate. Tosado was one of two beneficiaries and thus entitled to receive half. Shortly after the lawsuit was settled, DAS filed a lawsuit in probate court alleging Tosado owed the state for her incarceration.

Johnson was incarcerated between February 2002 and March 2004. When Johnson’s mother passed away in 2016, the state took part of his inheritance to pay for his prison debt. The state is also currently attempting to charge Johnson $74,652.58 from the estate of his father, who passed away in 2021.

A 2022 bill sought to repeal the DOC’s authority to charge people who were incarcerated for the cost of their time in prison. It also would have ended the state’s claim to any property the individual had that could have been used to satisfy the debt, the attorney general’s authority to bring enforcement action against a formerly incarcerated individual for that purpose, the state’s ability to place a lien against lawsuit proceeds or inheritance received by a former inmate, and the state’s claim against the estate of a former inmate. Additionally, it would have eliminated the DOC commissioner’s ability to disburse income an inmate earned during their incarceration to offset those costs.

Though the bill was favorably voted out of committee, it did not receive a vote in the General Assembly before the session ended. Some provisions of the bill were included in the 2022-2023 biennial budget. The changes exempted an additional $50,000 of assets owned by an individual from the state’s ability to place a lien against them to collect on prison debt, except for inmates incarcerated for capital felony or murder with special circumstances, felony murder, first and second degree sexual assault, first degree aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault of a minor.

The plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys with the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut and Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg, and Knuff, LLC.

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Katherine Revello

An advocate for transparency and accountability, Katherine has over a decade of experience covering government. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine and her work has appeared in Reason, The Huffington Post, The Washington Examiner, and other publications.

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