Lori Mack / Connecticut Public Radio

On Thursday, March 31, Connecticut legislators had an opportunity to do the right thing in the name of justice and humanity and most did so when they voted the PROTECT Act, SB 459, out of the Judiciary Committee. Now the rest of the journey to the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont begins.

Once again people from across the state will be watching and waiting for the governor’s signature. 

Watching the Judiciary Committee discussion and vote on the legislation, which addresses solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons, I was reminded of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s quotes relative to courage, moral conscience and the measure of a man. Dr King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” He also spoke about courage and doing the right thing. He said, “Cowardice asks the question ‘is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question ‘is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question ‘is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question ‘is it right?’ There comes a time when one has to take a stand that is neither, safe, politic nor popular but that moral conscience says is right.  

I watched those characteristics play out and for the most part was pleased beyond words. Pleased to see the moral compass in Connecticut politics move toward justice with a vote of 31-9 in the affirmative.  

I thought about all the people across Connecticut who sighed with relief watching and hearing the news. I thought of my son, and hoped that hearing this legislation might become law would bring him solace and lead toward healing from the unspeakable pain he endured at age 17 inside Northern Supermax, in punitive segregation in Manson and in Garner CI where the seriously mentally ill end up after enduring state sanctioned psychological torture.  

As legislators approach the General Assembly vote I am hoping they will be doing so without misrepresentations fed them last session. One of the most misleading narratives was around the notion that advocates for humanity don’t consider victims. Incarcerated people are paying for the crimes of which they have been convicted. Part of that sentence was not the inclusion of state sanctioned abuse, neglect, indifference, psychological trauma nor death. 

 Another narrative that stirred people’s emotions was the mention of the horrific crime that occurred in Cheshire to the Petit family. It was used to justify the conditions incarcerated people endure. It was done in very poor taste.  

In reality, the two men responsible for the tragedy, Joshua Komisarjefsky and Steven Hayes, are not suffering the inhumanity inside CT Dept. of Corrections. Both men were transferred out years ago to prisons in Pennsylvania. Not that I am ascribing to anyone being treated in an inhumane manner. My sole reason for bringing this to your attention is to end the misleading narrative that is used to support abuse and neglect of incarcerated teens, men and women in Connecticut facilities. 

With the signing into law of SB 459 I look forward to Commissioner Quiros and his administrative staff moving Connecticut forward. I vow to work tenaciously to dismantle this harmful system in the name of all those who have been mistreated, neglected, psychologically harmed, saddled with chronic disease borne out of incarceration, medical neglect and malpractice, as well as honor those who have died within this system. I also do so to honor families who must bear the aftereffects of state sanctioned violence toward their loved ones.  

 Barbara Fair is a licensed clinical social worker living in West Haven, and an organizer with Stop Solitary CT.