To the Editor:
Last week, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly voted in support of a bill to restrict the use of solitary confinement in state prisons and jails. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Just last year, another version of the bill, known then and now as the PROTECT Act, passed both the House and the Senate only to be vetoed by Governor Ned Lamont. Lamont instead put forward his own executive order that he claimed would result in the same ends, but that has functionally done little to reduce the use of solitary confinement. Notably, unlike the PROTECT Act, the executive order instituted no form of independent oversight over Department of Correction (DOC) practices.
The PROTECT Act, on the other hand, establishes standards to limit uses of isolation, bringing Connecticut in line with the United Nations’ Mandela Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These international human rights rules identify solitary confinement as a form of torture. Additionally, the bill institutes independent oversight over the DOC, increasing transparency and accountability.
Those against the bill have argued that these standards and oversight mechanisms unfairly and unsafely constrain the DOC. But those sorts of concerns should no longer be relevant as DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros testified in front of the Judiciary Committee that he has reached an agreement with Stop Solitary and committed his support for the bill. “Collectively, Stop Solitary CT and the DOC focused on the objective of minimizing the long-term impact of incarceration, while simultaneously maintaining a safe and secure environment for our staff and the individuals in our custody,” Quiros said before stating that he “urge[s] the Judiciary Committee to strongly consider and accept the substitute language agreed to by DOC and Stop Solitary.”
Opponents of the bill are running out of arguments. First, some argued that Governor Lamont’s executive order would bring the same results as the PROTECT Act; it didn’t. Then they pivoted, saying that the PROTECT Act would be bad for DOC employees and DOC operations; it seems that Commissioner Quiros has put those concerns to rest with his strong support for the bill.
Any critique of the bill cannot result from a question of process or some perceived failure to assess concerns from all stakeholders. The only possible explanation left for the existence of solitary confinement in Connecticut is a sheer disregard for the humanity of Connecticut citizens incarcerated in its prisons. All that’s left is this vague idea that we need solitary confinement for “safety.” But I think we must interrogate who we think is being kept “safe” because solitary confinement is used because it certainly is not the countless incarcerated individuals who have consistently spoken out against the enduring, damaging effects of solitary on their mental and emotional health.
If we truly want to believe in prison as a rehabilitative space, we can’t continue practices that have been proven to have lasting harm years after those who endure them have been released from incarceration. But even further, if we believe that all people are worthy of dignity and humanity, it’s time to end abuse in our prisons. Nobody is safer or better off because solitary confinement continues in Connecticut. A broad coalition of citizen advocates and incarcerated people support this bill. The Department of Correction supports this bill. Common sense supports this bill. There is no reason every legislator in the General Assembly and Governor Lamont should not as well. The floor vote is coming up and excuses are running out. It’s time to stop solitary confinement in Connecticut by passing the PROTECT Act and signing it into law.
New Haven, CT
Bradley is a member of Stop Solitary CT