Northern rec cage
A "recreation cage" is the only opportunity prisoners have to be outside in the sunlight. Those inside are surrounded by an estimated 14-foot wall on all sides. The image is a still photo corrections officers took of an empty cell for a documentary about the prison, according to lawyers involved in the lawsuit.

State attorneys and lawyers representing incarcerated people with mental health problems argued in court recently on how to proceed in a lawsuit seeking to end decades of correctional abuse in Connecticut.

Attorneys for the incarcerated sought to continue moving forward in bringing relief to those suffering behind bars, in cages, while lawyers for the state attorney’s office sought a pause and even a dismissal of the lawsuit.  The state wants to mediate outside of litigation. Those words have a familiar ring. While Stop Solitary CT seeks to end correctional sanctioned abuse Corrections Commissioner Angel Quiros sought to bring the necessary systemic change outside litigation as well, something several legislators rightfully don’t trust will happen. The Connecticut Department of Corrections has had decades to end the abuse and has failed to do so. The closing of Northern Correctional Institution  in Somers will not satisfy that demand either.  Without independent oversight the abuse will simply be transferred to other facilities. U.S. District Court Judge Kari Dooley alluded to that concern as well.

We all witnessed the speed at which Connecticut Attorney General William Tong responded to anti -Asian hate. His outspokenness and expedience in passing laws to support our fellow human beings is commendable. Because I witnessed how aggressively his office moved in response to that crisis, I was taken aback by that very same office asking Judge Dooley to slow down and even dismiss the lawsuit that would end state sanctioned torture of Black and brown human beings behind bars.

Lawyers for the Attorney General’s office asked the judge to pause, stating the “timing is ideal for parties to mediate the dispute.” In reality the time for mediation passed decades ago. This not the first lawsuit against this department for abusive practices. The judge’s response “it’s not clear that a stay would do much by way of harm and that it may actually be a productive use of everybody’s time” is quite concerning. It reveals either a lack of understanding about the depth of pain many suffer daily or an indifference to those who suffer daily under the guise of public safety.

Using Attorney General Tong’s own words in relation to anti-Asian hate “for far too long violence and bias have been ignored by all but those who have lived with this pain.” Along those lines we must aggressively push this lawsuit forward. A delay in the lawsuit simply extends the hours, days, weeks of immeasurable pain to those living it.

Prolonged isolation is an issue not only for the mentally ill but for all those who are forced to experience what the United Nations recently cited as torture within Connecticut prisons. Prolonged isolation breaks one spirt and shatters their minds. It creates and exacerbates mental illness, self-harm and early death. It creates anti- social behavior and those who manage to survive experience post-traumatic stress disorder and a journey of navigating through lifetime psychological scars.

Tong went on to say he wanted to “ensure the safety of all Connecticut families,” so let’s work together to give credence to those words. Let’s make sure no human being is invisible in Connecticut. Incarcerated people matter, too.

Barbara Fair is a member of the Stop Solitary CT steering committee