An advocacy group that wants to end the practice of isolating inmates in prison says reducing isolation could save the state as much as $17 million annually.
The savings projected in the report by Stop Solitary CT do not include the $12.6 million that the state will save when Northern Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only “supermax” prison, closes on July 1, said Stop Solitary CT Steering Committee member and organizer Joseph Gaylin.
“The Governor (Ned Lamont) has already committed to closing Northern but we want it shut down and demolished so it can never be used again,” Gaylin said. “This is a very conservative estimate on the savings that would we realized if the state reduced isolation by 80 % and it doesn’t include the savings realized by closing Northern.”
The organization has been working for at least four years to get the state Department of Correction to end the practice of isolation, also called administrative segregation, particularly at Northern CI which is where inmates who are deemed disciplinary problems are placed.
According to the report, prohibiting isolated confinement except for a few specific exceptions, the state would save $17 million annually, mostly in staffing costs since solitary confinement is labor intensive.
Stop Solitary CT is recommending that $2.5 million of the $17 million be used to ensure social bonds between inmates and their loved ones are maintained by providing two free letters a week at a cost of $956,488. About $1 million of the money would go to expanding workers compensation claims for correction officers to include emotional and mental impairments related to the job and another $630,000 would go toward creating an Office of Ombuds which would provide independent oversight of the DOC.
The initiatives are three of several laid out in the Promoting Responsible Oversight, Treatment and Effective Correctional Transparency, PROTECT Act, which is currently being drafted. The proposal bill also calls for mandated reporting on incidents of isolated confinement and that the DOC provide cumulative numbers to track the use of prolonged isolation and limit the use of restraints to transporting inmates, as an emergency response to a substantiated threat or during a medical emergency.
The proposed bill would limit the use of restraints to four consecutive hours or four cumulative hours during a 24-hour period.
The issue of restraints and isolation tactics used by the DOC came to a head a few weeks ago when Disability Rights Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction barring the agency from using solitary confinement and in-cell shackling at Northern CI on mentally ill inmates.
The lawsuit contends that conditions at the prison are “horrendous” with inmates who are considered disciplinary problems at times shackled in their cells for days with the chains so short they have to spill their food on the floor or a bed to eat.
The organization which represents those with mental health concerns filed an updated complaint last week which calls for an end to isolation at Northern CI and any of the state’s prisons. Many inmates who are placed in isolation have mental health concerns that aren’t being properly treated and are acting out, Disability Rights CT said in the lawsuit.
Lamont announced the closing of Northern CI on Feb. 8, four days after the lawsuit was filed. Lamont said the closure would save $12.6 million annually with the money going into state coffers.
Advocates including Stop Solitary CT and Disability Rights CT want the money to go to the Black and Latino communities which have been the most impacted by mass incarceration. The state’s prison population is 72% Black and Latino. The population at Northern CI, which is now housing about 65 inmates, is more than 80% Black and Latino, the organizations said.
The figures cited in the report are based on the average cost of isolation practices in several states. Stop Solitary CT contends that it costs twice as much to isolate inmates than it does to house people in the general prison population due to the required amount of staffing needed.
But it’s not just about dollars and cents, said Stop Solitary CT Steering Committee member Rev. Allie Perry. “Prolonged isolation is torture; it is costly in human lives and, as this report documents, costly in tax payer dollars as well,” Perry said. “The moral and monetary arguments for ending solitary confinement are compelling. Connecticut cannot and must not continue to pay that price.”