The Senate passed legislation Wednesday that limits the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and provides more oversight for the Department of Correction.
The bill passed 29 to 6.
A similar bill suffered a bruising defeat last year when Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed it. This year things are different. Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros and the advocates from Stop Solitary CT came up with a compromise.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who represents the district with the most prisons, said he voted against the bill last year, but voted for it this year.
“There is a concern that the advocates will want to turn and come back, but I think we have a process now where some of these things can be reviewed,” Kissel said.
Kissel said there’s a concern among correction officers that they need the tools to manage the prison population.
“What is available for the protection of all the other inmates and correctional officers?”
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said an inmate can still be isolated if there’s no other method to keep them and other inmates safe, but there’s a time limitation.
“No person may be placed in isolated confinement longer than necessary and no longer than 15 days,” Winfield said.
Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, said he has a problem with the repeat violent offenders who are not excluded from these provisions.
The bill limits the time in solitary to 30 days.
Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-North Haven, voted against the bill for this reason.
He said if an inmate stabs another inmate or correction officer twice and then exits solitary after 30 days and exits and stabs another inmate then he won’t be able to serve another 15 days because it was within the 60 day period.
“There’s no consequences for these repeat violent offenders,” Cicarella said.
The bill codifies some elements of an executive order that Lamont issued after the veto that increased out-of-cell time and restricted the use of isolation for some vulnerable populations. At the same time, Quiros maintained that the agency needed to continue the practice of strip searches, which would have been restricted in an earlier draft of the bill.
Barbara Fair, of Stop Solitary CT, has worked for years to make legislators and the public aware of the mental impact of prolonged isolation and other confinement tactics after her son was held in solitary confinement at Northern Correctional Institution, the state’s super-maximum prison, when he was 17.
Fair believed the voices of incarcerated individuals who spoke during the public hearing, and their families who were struggling as their loved ones suffered, made a difference. “I think they took in all of those voices,” Fair said.
The new version of the bill, which previously was called the PROTECT Act, would limit the use of isolation confinement, and create and fund an agency ombudsman with staff to field and investigate complaints, and an advisory committee to examine the work of the ombudsman and submit issues for review. No price has been attributed to the initiatives yet.
The advisory committee would be made up of experts who have experience with medical and mental health in prisons, at least three members with lived incarceration experience, and one experienced in the rights of incarcerated people and people who have demonstrated they support incarcerated people.
Under the new version of the law, no one under 18 could be placed in isolation. Those who are placed in isolation would be given reading and writing materials and would be provided two hours of out-of-cell time every day including one hour of recreation. Inmates would only be permitted to be placed in isolation after less restrictive measures are considered.
Inmates in the general population must have four hours of out-of-cell time each day as of July 1. Out-of-cell time would increase to four-and-a-half hours daily as of Oct. 1, and five hours a day as of April 1, 2023.