Time to Talk about What Truly Needs to Change For the Safety of Both the Incarcerated and Staff


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To the Editor:

Another story of an assault on correctional staff has made the news. I’m not surprised seeing that correctional staff are unhappy with the movement toward a more humane environment inside Connecticut jails, prisons and juvenile facilities and are pushing back against laws passed to move in that direction.

Moving in that direction means changing policies that are oppressive, harsh, punitive and dehumanizing rather than supportive and rehabilitative. It means leadership having the courage , initiative and integrity to acknowledge that this department is doing a really poor job at improving the lives of people in its custody and instead releasing them back into a society broken spiritually and emotionally numb.

At some point we have got to see that what we are doing is terribly wrong. We are reducing human beings into people who had to become emotionally numb to survive the harsh conditions beginning with having to share a cage with another person in many instances. Sharing a cage. Can you believe we as a society thought it was okay to house people in a cage. Had we given thought to that at any point we wouldn’t be witnessing what we are witnessing today. When did it become a norm? What were the expected outcomes? Was this all intentional like the War on Drugs?  

At any point had we questioned how we went from one prison to 13 we might not have gotten here. At any point had we questioned why are we chaining and shackling people and using leg irons once slavery supposedly was abolished we might not be here. At any point had we questioned why we incarcerate children at a younger age than anywhere in the country we might not be here. At any point had we questioned why the War on Drugs led to mass incarceration of African Americans when we know drug use is in every corner of the state we might not be here. Had we questioned why we closed down mental health institutions and funneled the mental ill into jails and prisons we might not be here. At any point had we asked about programming and treatment for the mentally ill inside places like Garner, where over 500 seriously mentally ill are housed — had we asked questions we might not be here.

At any point have legislators, who are suppose to provide oversight, met and spoken with incarcerated people and correctional staff to make sure the treatment being provided is professional and using best practices? Has anyone even checked the credentials of those providing care? Had we asked we might not be here. So many unasked questions and as a result we have a department with no public scrutiny.

I read comments from a correctional officer at MacDougall after an assault in June: “Something has to change before someone is seriously attacked.”

Is returning back to solitary confinement the “something”?

As I read the commissioners’ response,” This is my worst fear, that our brave staff members are attacked and injured” and “this is a sobering reminder of the dangers our courageous professionals face on a daily basis” and “I’m doubling down on my efforts to ensure the safety of these fine men and women.”

Therein lies the primary reason why we are where we are in corrections in Connecticut. No regard or mention of the safety and security of those held in custody, the most marginalized people and unprotected in its care. No talk about what truly needs to change for all-around safety of both incarcerated and staff.

Barbara Fair, LCSW
West Haven, CT