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New prison chief says agency is better prepared for COVID

Gov. Ned Lamont’s new choice to oversee the Connecticut Department of Correction said Wednesday he believes the agency is better prepared for a possible new surge of coronavirus infections this fall than it was months ago, when the pandemic began and “mistakes” were made.

Angel Quiros, who will become the department’s first Hispanic commissioner, said prison officials have learned much more about the coronavirus since the spring. And some policies — such as isolating inmates who tested positive at state’s maximum security prison and not allowing them to shower because of ventilation concerns — have been changed.

“So we’ve learned a lot. There’s a lot of data that we have in the department of mistakes that were made that led us to be better prepared for the fall,” said Quiros, whose appointment was announced by Lamont during a news conference at the state Capitol.

The Connecticut ACLU in April filed lawsuits on behalf of inmates concerning conditions at the state’s prisons during the height of the pandemic. In an affidavit for a state lawsuit, inmate Roger Johnson described not being allowed to shower for two weeks.

Besides allowing inmates who are both symptomatic and asymptomatic for COVID-19 to now shower, Quiros said he’s “moving away” from quarantining inmates at Northern Correctional Institution after discovering some inmates were hiding their symptoms to avoid being sent to the Level 5 facility in Somers. He said a Level 4 facility has been identified as an alternative site, but did not reveal which one.

He said the agency has been finishing a second round of mass testing and the current infection rate is about 3%, compared to 9% earlier in the year. He said there have been a total of eight symptomatic inmates in July and August, which Quiros called a “huge improvement” credited to the agency’s staff.

Quiros, 52, who spent his teenage years in Hartford, has been employed at the agency since he first joined as a correctional officer in 1989. He has worked his way through the ranks over the last 31 years, serving in numerous positions including warden. Most recently, Quiros has been the deputy commissioner of operations and rehabilitative services. He also also been serving as the agency’s interim commissioner since Rollin Cook stepped down to return home to Utah in June.

While Lamont has filled many of his top cabinet positions with people who’ve previously worked outside Connecticut state government, he noted that Quiros, “who’s been right here, who’s serving this state” was the “very best person” for the job. The appointment still requires legislative confirmation.

Since February 2008, Connecticut’s inmate population has declined by about 50%. Quiros said he foresees more facilities closing, but which ones likely won’t be revealed until next year.

“The main focus right now is preparing the agency for the COVID in the fall.” he said. “Allow us to get through the fall, early spring, and then there’s going to be some serious conversation early on in 2021, probably March or April, about the possibility of facility closures.”


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