The parties in Savino v Souza, the landmark class action lawsuit challenging unsafe conditions at the Bristol County House of Correction (BCHOC) in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, today asked the federal judge hearing the case to approve a settlement agreement. If approved, the settlement would resolve one of the most successful class actions filed on behalf of detained individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The case dramatically reduced the number of people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention at BCHOC – from 148 to seven – allowing dozens of civil immigration detainees to return to their families and safely quarantine at home.
The class action lawsuit was filed in March 2020 and is believed to be the first lawsuit brought during the pandemic on behalf of all individuals in ICE detention at a facility, as opposed to only individuals with certain medical risk factors. The case brought ICE and BCHOC officials’ life-threatening mismanagement of the pandemic to the attention of US District Court Judge William G. Young, an effort that proved to be enormously successful at protecting class members’ health and well-being and that served as a blueprint for similar class actions across the country. During the course of the litigation:
- The Court granted class certification, allowing the action to proceed on behalf of all individuals held in civil immigration detention at BCHOC. These individuals were not held on criminal charges but rather solely because of their immigration status.
- The Court determined that BCHOC was likely to be found deliberately indifferent to class members’ health and safety needs due to “cavernous holes in the government’s mitigation strategy” during the pandemic, including a failure to reduce overcrowding, a lack of testing, and inadequate contact tracing.
- The Court released 43 individuals on bail, allowing them to safely quarantine at home during the pendency of the lawsuit, instead of in the unsafe and overcrowded conditions at BCHOC. During the litigation, others paid bond set by Immigration Judges, obtained relief in their immigration cases, or were voluntarily released.
- The Court granted a preliminary injunction, barring ICE from admitting new individuals to detention without Court approval, which maximized and sustained population reduction. The Court also ordered that testing be made available to class members and BCHOC staff.
The settlement announced today, if approved by the Court, will:
- Secure the continued release of those on bail. The fact that these class members have successfully remained under ICE supervision, free of detention, demonstrates the accuracy of Judge Young’s statement, in ruling on the Preliminary Injunction, that “it would appear we are spending millions of our national treasure to lock up thousands of people who might better be released…without impairing the safety of our citizens or the operations of our government.”
- Secure the release of six additional individuals.
- Provide the remaining seven detained individuals the option of transferring to another New England ICE facility.
In documents filed today, the parties have jointly asked the Court to preliminarily approve the settlement and to set a Final Fairness Hearing within 28 days to grant final approval.
The Plaintiff class is represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights, the law firm of WilmerHale, which has generously provided its legal services to the class on a pro bono basis, the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, and Rights Behind Bars. The advocacy efforts of community organizations and individual attorneys have also played an invaluable role in securing this positive outcome.