During last legislative session a bipartisan bill was passed to place Connecticut in line with other states who have finally acknowledged the deeply harmful effects of confining people in isolation for days, weeks, months and in many cases years. SB1059 was an important bill to pass last session and it did. Activists, advocates, incarcerated people and their families and countless individuals across the state breathed a sigh of relief when the victorious vote was announced.
While they awaited Governor Lamont”s signing the legislation into law they were shocked and dismayed when he decided to veto the policy. In its place he established an executive order which, according to people on the inside, has actually placed people in the worst kind of conditions they have ever faced. Four men have died of COVID just in this month alone. Medical care has been a huge problem within Department of Corrections for decades. Countless lawsuits have been settled for millions of dollars due to medical neglect.
The primary reason the executive order was ineffective in bringing the outcomes the Governor suggested would happen was due to no independent oversight attached to the order. We have seen over and over again what happens when systems are allowed to police themselves. The harmful effects of isolating people for prolonged times was one of the reasons the United Nations cited Connecticut prisons in 2019 for being “places of torture.” According to Mandela rules which the governor cited in his executive order, the minimal standards of care are being violated inside Connecticut prisons. The PROTECT Act would have made staff, incarcerated people and the communities incarcerated people return safer.
Although countless Connecticut residents were greatly disappointed by the Governor’s actions they are even more determined to protect the rights of incarcerated teens and adults. Department of Justice recently completed a 2 year investigation in which Manson Youth facility located in Cheshire Correctional which houses teens 14-21 was cited for violating the constitutional rights of young people. The PROTECT Act operates as a support for our young people as well.
We have a great deal of work to do in Connecticut to live up to the narratives we tell ourselves about being so progressive. I pray addressing this 2021 unfinished business heads the list of legislative work on the governor’s list of “things to do.”