Members of Stop Solitary CT celebrated a delayed victory Monday as Gov. Ned Lamont signaled his intent to sign a piece of legislation that will limit the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons.
At a state Capitol press conference, members of the advocacy group Stop Solitary CT spoke about the impact of solitary confinement on inmates.
Barbara Fair, a licensed clinical social worker and social justice advocate for Stop Solitary CT, said that the organization, with the help of ACLU Smart Justice, had been working tirelessly since the veto of a similar bill last year to ensure the policy was passed this session.
“I know this journey is not over because we still have a lot of work to do, but these people have been with me through it all,” Fair said.
The bill, S.B. 459, 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.
This year’s bill represented a follow-up effort by the advocates of Stop Solitary. Last year, they successfully lobbied for the passage of another bill designed to limit how much time a person can spend in isolation inside a prison. The bill reached the governor’s desk only to be vetoed by Lamont who responded to concerns voiced by unions representing state correction officers which argued it would have caused unsafe conditions inside prison facilities.
During Monday’s press conference, Sarah Eagan, state child advocate, said that inmates who are placed in solitary are sometimes children. Eagan shared the stories of Heather Panciera, assistant child advocate, who visits with young men who are in solitary. It is Panciera’s job to go into Connecticut prisons and talk with these young inmates about their experiences, and try to give them a voice, Eagan said.
“There is so much injustice in the world that affects our children,” Eagan said.
Eagan said that she and Panciera met with a boy during one of their visits to a Connecticut prison who entered the prison system at age 13. At the time of their meeting, he was 16, and only allowed to leave his cell with shackles on both his feet and hands. His cell had a bed, a toilet that only flushed from the outside, and a sink bolted to the floor. The boy only received an hour of schooling some days, not others, and he stayed in that cell for a year.
“At the end of the day the only question we should ever be asking ourselves is: Are we sending our children somewhere where they are going to get help?” she said.
At a Monday afternoon press conference on the state budget, Lamont confirmed he would sign this year’s bill, which was drafted with input from the state corrections commissioner. Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, said that aspects of an executive order limiting solitary confinement issued by the governor last year were incorporated into the bill passed by lawmakers.
“We’re very proud to see that executive order led to this compromise bill and many elements of that executive order that the governor put in place last year is reflected in this bill,” Mounds said. “This is what we would call a good collaboration of the administration, the advocates and the legislature to get to a sound solution for the state of Connecticut.”