In a divided vote late Thursday, the House approved legislation limiting the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons, sending the bill to Gov. Ned Lamont, who vetoed a similar policy last year.
Lawmakers voted 98 to 45 to pass the bill, which has the support of Lamont’s Correction Department Commissioner and advocates from Stop Solitary CT. The state Senate passed the proposal Wednesday.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, described the bill as similar to the proposal passed last year but adjusted through negotiations.
“This is a bill that has modified and changed many times, I think, from last year’s bill which was vetoed to a bill that was introduced to the committee earlier this year and ultimately to an agreement… between advocates of this bill and the commissioner of the Department of Corrections,” Stafstrom said. “I think it strikes the right balance.”
The bill caps the number of days a person can spend in solitary confinement at 15 days and limits the total number of days in isolation to 30 in a 60 day period. It creates an ombudsman position with the Correction Department to investigate complaints and establishes a nine-member advisory committee to, among other things, recommend candidates for the ombudsman position.
Rep. Craig Fishbien, a Wallingford Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called the bill a “decent bill,” which addressed many of the concerns he had with the original legislation.
“We know that solitary confinement for a long period of time has negative mental health results and I think what’s before us has decent guardrails,” Fishbien said.
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.
Not everyone in the House was satisfied by the version of the bill that passed Thursday. Rep. Kurt Vail, a Stafford Republican and former correction officer, said he worried incarcerated people would become aware of and take advantage of the limits on the use of solitary confinement. But although he voted against it, Vail said it was a better bill than the version Lamont vetoed.
“It still gives me pause. Last year’s iteration of this bill I had grave concerns with this year’s iteration I have slight concern with,” Vail said.
Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, D-Bethel, said he supported most of the bill’s provisions but could not vote for it because it did not give correction staff a seat at the advisory group’s table.
“I support the main principles of the bill and share the view that its goals and priorities are important but the failure to give our correction officers a seat at the table and a voice in the room is something I cannot get passed,” he said.