A group looking to stop the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons is continuing its fight against the practice with a call to action Friday.
Stop Solidarity Connecticut will discuss conditions at the prisons and push again to pass legislation. Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed their efforts earlier this year.
“We compromised last time and took it out,” Barbara Fair, a founding member of Stop Solitary CT, said. “This time we’re not compromising.”
From 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday at Christ Chapel New Testament Church on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven they will renew their efforts for a legislative session beginning in early February.
“The time to act is now,” Fair said. “Every day another mind is being shattered, another spirit broken by this system.”
The legislation which was vetoed by Lamont would have created an ombudsman to provide oversight of the state Department of Correction, ended solitary confinement and shackling inmates in their cells and required that inmates spend no more than 16 ½ hours a day in their cells unless there was a facility-wide lockdown.
Other facets of the bill would have required the DOC to provide inmates with a minimum number of social and legal letters, free social and legal phone calls and 60 minutes of social contact visits per week.
Lamont vetoed the legislation unexpectedly after hearing from the unions that represent DOC employees. Instead he issued an executive order directing the DOC to curtail isolation and shackling while increasing family visits and out of cell time.
“I am not signing this legislation because, as written, it puts the safety of incarcerated persons and correction employees at substantial risk,” Lamont wrote in his veto message. “This legislation places unreasonable and dangerous limits on the use of restraints.”
The order came with a timeline that the agency has been working to meet, DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci, said. “Do not underestimate the changes in the executive order,” she added. “It’s making significant changes.”
Sen. Gary Winfield, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he is listening to both sides and trying to determine what needs to be done to codify and strengthen the changes Lamont made.
“Even if the executive order was amazing, something needs to be codified to not have it overturned as easy as it can be right now,” he said.
He understands that advocates want something closer to the original bill but that the DOC wants something closer to the executive order which they have already accomplished, he said. “The question at this point is, where do we wind up?” Winfield said.
Under the executive order issued by Lamont, inmates who were placed in restraints have to be monitored every four hours by a shift commander or a designee compared to the previous standard which was every 24 hours.
The order also required the agency to limit the use of isolated confinement on “vulnerable populations” including those under 18 or over 65, people with mental health needs, people with a developmental disability or a serious medical condition that cannot be treated in isolated confinement, women who are pregnant or postpartum or who have recently suffered a miscarriage or ended a pregnancy and people with a significant auditory or visual impairment.
Inmates in the general population are now out of their cells for at least four hours a day and those who are being disciplined must be out of their cells for at least two hours a day. Some restrictions on visitation have been removed allowing people more names on the list of who can visit and the DOC will now accommodate diaper changes during visits, the agency said. Previously, if a baby needed to be changed during a visit, the visit was ended.
Many of the changes had to be completed by Dec. 1, the order said. “The executive order is a heavy lift,” Martucci said. “You can’t minimize the impact of the significant positive changes.”
Fair said her organization would be examining Lamont’s order to determine what else needs to be done to address reforms that were put by the wayside when he vetoed the bill.
“All I’m asking is to treat people humanely,” Fair said. “Why wouldn’t they want to do that?”