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The push to end solitary confinement in Connecticut intensifies as advocates try to change state law

Solitary Confinement Reform-NY
Bebeto Matthews
Associated Press
This Jan. 28, 2016, photo shows a solitary confinement cell at New York City's Riker's Island jail. On Thursday, March 31, 2016, a federal judge approved a sweeping plan to reduce solitary confinement in New York state prisons.

Connecticut prison reform advocates want lawmakers to pass a law to regulate the use of solitary confinement and improve correctional oversight. This comes after the state Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Friday on several prison reform bills.

Barbara Fair, co-founder of Stop Solitary CT, said her then 17-year-old son was allegedly tortured inside of Northern Correctional Facility, a now-closed supermax prison.

“I witnessed first hand the irreparable damage isolation causes so I cannot rest until state-sanctioned abuse of incarcerated people is no longer an acceptable practice. No one should be allowed to degrade, humiliate and abuse another with impunity,” Fair said.

Last year, the state General Assembly passed the PROTECT ACT that would have reduced solitary confinement and established independent oversight of the state prison system.

Governor Ned Lamont vetoed the bill and replaced it with an executive order that made some changes to when solitary can be used like 22 hours per day for up to 15 days in a row, or 30 days in a 60-day period, if there is an exception.

Advocates said Lamont’s order is less effective than statutory law.

This year’s legislation, Senate Bill 459, also known as the PROTECT ACT, means isolated confinement can be used only as a last resort. It also limits solitary to no longer than 15 consecutive days, and inmates must have at least five hours a day out of the cell.

It also proposes the creation of an Ombudsman and Advisory Commission for Correctional Oversight to evaluate the operations of prisons, jails and halfway houses throughout the state.

The bill was supported by several advocates at the meeting on Friday. Judith Resnik, a professor at Yale Law School, said the state should create an independent advisory commission to evaluate prison operations throughout the state.

“Pulling in and working with the Department of Corrections and then building in an ombudsperson, and building an advisory committee is a terrific, innovative, supportive infrastructure that enables understanding. You can’t undo solitary without knowing how it’s being used,” Resnik said.

Correctional officers testified in opposition to the bill.

Officers claimed the bill will put correctional officers and the incarcerated population’s safety at risk. Phillip Brown, who was a correctional officer for over 19 years, said “offenders in administrative segregation are visited several times a day by staff and given at least two hours a day for recreation.”

Angel Quiros, the commissioner of the state Department of Correction, said the agency “knows that this will be an ongoing, continuing, evolving process so the bill will be enacted.”

He said Connecticut will remain at the forefront of “progressive correction practice.”

Clare is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.