Barbara Fair Credit: Lisa Backus photo

A bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Ned Lamont will limit the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons, codifying some of the reforms sought for years by Stop Solitary CT advocates.

The bill, passed by both chambers of the legislature in late April, 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 within the Correction Department to investigate complaints and establishes a nine-member advisory panel to oversee use of solitary and recommend ombudsman candidates. 

“This law makes it clear that isolated confinement should only be used in extreme circumstances,” Lamont said in a press release Tuesday. “It also increases transparency and provides greater independent oversight of our correctional facilities.”

Lamont vetoed a similar bill last year, responding to concerns voiced by unions representing state correction officers which argued it would have caused unsafe conditions inside prison facilities. When he scrapped the bill passed by the legislature, the governor issued an executive order placing some constraints on the Correction Department’s use of isolated confinement. Some of those policies were included in the bill passed this year.

On Tuesday, Barbara Fair, lead organizer of Stop Solitary CT, said she was excited to see a version of the legislation signed into law. Fair, whose son was placed in solitary confinement while in Connecticut custody, said the governor’s signature came as a relief after last year’s veto.

“I can finally exhale because I know it’s actually signed,” Fair said, adding that she hoped to see the Lamont administration organize a ceremonial signing event. “It’s been an exhausting session but to get the bill signed makes it all worthwhile.”

This year’s bill is the product of negotiations between advocates and the state Correction Department. In a press release, DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros said it struck a balance between maintaining security in prisons and minimizing the harmful effects of incarceration.

“This signing of this bill also shows what can be accomplished through negotiation and collaboration,” Quiros said. “At the end of the day, we all have the same goal – the successful reintegration of those in our care.” 

Fair said she saw the bill as a starting point and planned to advocate for further changes to state correction policies including limiting the agency’s use of strip searches.