Today there will be a ceremonial raising of a flag in the state’s Capitol celebrating the end of American slavery in 1865. For me the day is bittersweet.
The state once again has the opportunity to curtail the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut’s prisons after Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed similar legislation last year.
I receive letters regularly on how conditions in our prisons have gone from bad to deplorable to outright inhumane.
At a time when human decency called for a limit to be placed on solitary confinement, another group demanded the governor ignore the people’s voice and the will of our legislators because torturing people is “a necessary tool” to maintain safety behind bars.
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.
Connecticut prides itself being a progressive state. One peek into the Criminal Justice and Correctional system tells a story in contrast. It tells a story of deeply embedded structural and institutional racial disparity within every state organization. Although Connecticut is over 72% white every system that negatively impacts Connecticut society is predominantly Black and brown. Clearly in Connecticut the arc of the moral universe is slow to bend toward justice.
News of the closing of Northern CI left many within the social justice community elated. Weeks ago, then-acting Commissioner Angel Quiros publicly stated at least two prisons would be closing. Many of us felt it made sense that Northern would be on the short list, especially with recent news surrounding it. It has faced numerous lawsuits since its opening in 1995, one affirmed on the very day the commissioner was confirmed.
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.
Solitary confinement has many faces within Connecticut Department of Correction. Faces include administrative segregation, security risk-group, chronic discipline, administrative detention, transfer detention, punitive segregation, special needs, restrictive housing and Level 5 prisons where solitary is simply a regular course of housing.
After months of tireless work to bring awareness to state legislators about the harm associated with solitary confinement, a bill was passed that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what must happen to humanize criminal justice in this state. When states as notorious for prisoner abuse as California and Texas are making changes in prisoner treatment, one must wonder why Connecticut is lagging behind.