Northern Correctional Institution, in Somers, will close by July 1. Kelan Lyons / CT Mirror

News sources have repeatedly stated the primary way to avoid widespread infection of COVID-19 is through social practicing and intense sanitizing.  We all know neither is possible within jails and prisons. It has also been consistently reported that African- Americans and Latinos are at greater risk of death from the virus which is ravishing America. With that said, Connecticut’s prison population is disproportionately African-American and Latino.

We also know that Northern, a control unit located in Somers,  breeds mental illness. We also know Northern’s population is over 97% African American and Latino. We know anyone who becomes ill with COVID-19 will be sent to Northern. We also know that weakened immune systems increase morbidity. We know fear, anger and anxiety weakens the immune system. Medications including anti-psychotics used to treat these issues also suppress the immune system.  Contracting this disease will surely lead to high anxiety.

With all that we know, I have to question why this administration chose to send sick people and those suspected of illness to a place like Northern which will likely add to the anxiety people are feeling coping with COVID 19. Sick people need to receive compassionate care in a space conducive to healing. We at Stop Solitary CT have been pushing for the close of Northern long before the pandemic hit.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture stated keeping people in isolation can lead to  irreparable brain damage which is why he condemns its use. Within days it causes the brain to work differently. Also part of his message is that solitary should be used as a last resort, for the shortest possible time and never as a punishment.

When nearly two dozen men were sent there as retribution for planning a work stoppage to protest being sitting ducks to the COVID 19 virus, it’s a clear violation of international law.

I’m witnessing the lack of human connection between the incarcerated and the administration that holds them in custody. In a recent interview the Department of Correction commissioner stated he felt “at war with protesters” who he said were a “distraction.” A much needed distraction considering what’s going on in relation to COVID in Connecticut prisons.

Protest is the voice of the unheard. No one should see them as the enemy. They simply ask what any compassionate human being would want for those who for the most part are invisible in our society. Protesters are their voice. I have seen a lot in my 71 years of life and this is among the most painful experiences I have witnessed.

So many cries of relief from the inside and so many pleas from anxious families on the outside for compassionate release of those who pose no threat to public safety and yet this governor made it clear from day one he has no plan to release anyone even though thousands are within weeks to end of sentence.

After numerous letters, calls, virtual meetings, tweets, social media comments during daily briefings, and several public protests he has simply dug in his heels and dismissed every effort to appeal to his moral conscience. He rarely mentions them in the countless press conferences he has. It has caused me to come to the conclusion that he considers  incarcerated people disposable lives and I pray I am wrong.

If I am wrong then why has it been an absolute “no-no” to release ” thousands early to avoid sickness and possible death. One man has already lost his life, someone who had been approved for release before the pandemic hit. He doesn’t even talk about him.  Society is judged by how we treat our most vulnerable. How will Connecticut be judged during this life altering health crisis?

Barbara Fair is a licenced clinical social worker and ember of Stop Solitary CT.

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