Rep. Robyn Porter watches Caron Butler, former UConn star and NBA player, talk about the time he spent in solitary confinement as a kid.

On June 30, Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed the PROTECT Act, legislation that would have placed the brakes on decades of state sanctioned abuse of incarcerated people. With it he instituted an executive order at which guards have simply scoffed.

Barbara Fair.

I receive letters on a regular basis speaking to how conditions in 0ur prisons have gone from bad to deplorable to outright inhumane. Guards have pushed back by calling out sick on a regular basis and so the order to begin allowing more out-of-cell time and free phone calls has been undermined by “staff shortages.” According to the letters we receive from Cheshire CI. the inmates are on lockdown from Thursday to Sunday, drastically reducing visits and phone calls.

Surprisingly, the administrative staff is unaware this has been going on for months which is exactly why independent oversight and community input must be statutorily implemented. Without it the department polices itself. We are among the very few states in the nation with no corrections oversight.

On the day Commissioner Angel Quiros was confirmed he stated there was no need for legislation. He was adamant against independent oversight and a community advisory board. He promised to make changes on his own. Legislators took him at his word and unanimously confirmed him to head the department.

The justification for not doing what needs to be done to transform Connecticut prisons into more humane spaces is the overused phrase “we need to keep people safe.” We justified the torture that occurred inside Northern Supermax as a “necessary tool” to keep people safe. One must ask: Who are the people we are keeping safe? Certainly not incarcerated people internalizing caged rage. Certainly not the communities they return to. Who are we keeping safe by dehumanizing and caging human beings?

As a state licensed clinical social worker I have grave concerns about how mental health scores are determined. According to the department, scores 4-5 are considered requiring treatment and 1-3 of no concern. Due to implicit bias in America people of color have always been viewed through the lens of American racism. Our children are seen as older than they actually are, more criminal and less amenable to treatment. When the incarcerated population is over 70% people of color it’s questionable how the department determined 96% of the incarcerated population have mental health scores of 3 or less.

According to spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, the governor’s executive order “is challenging” logistically. Shift in culture is huge. These are not reasons to do nothing. Those who resist change should retire.

I expect resistance from a staff who for decades have held a job with great pay, excellent benefits and pension while keeping people caged for almost the entire day with minimal rehabilitative programming. They cannot be barriers to change. Connecticut prisons were cited by the international community in 2020 for their abusive treatment/torture of incarcerated people. We have also been cited as among the highest in the nation for racial disparity among the incarcerated population and we are among the few states with no independent oversight of corrections. According to Karen Martucci, DOC Director of External Affairs, the commissioner has been “looking to enhance programming and meaningful activities.” The public has a right to see evidence of that happening since it contrasts with the letters we receive on a regular basis speaking to the unbearable conditions and lockdown for days at a time.

What we have seen since the veto of the PROTECT Act is that the Department of Corrections cannot police itself. Independent oversight including a community advisory board is a MUST.

Barbara Fair is Lead organizer for Stop Solitary.