The time for reform is now
For decades, prisons across the country have misused solitary confinement. In reality, long-term isolation is harmful to prisoners, costly to taxpayers, and does not make communities safer.
- There are currently no statutory limitations on the use of isolated confinement in Connecticut.
- Mistreatment of people at Northern CI – especially juveniles and those with mental illness – has led to costly litigation and a settlement decree.[i] A 2012 documentary, Worst of the Worst, captures some of these conditions.[ii]
- In the last five years, in keeping with national trends,[iii] the Connecticut Department of Correction has significantly limited its use of isolation. During this time, staff assaults, inmate assaults, use-of-force incidents, and suicide attempts have all decreased.[iv]
- There is nationwide, bipartisan support for limiting the use of isolated confinement.[v] Faith leaders have criticized isolation as fundamentally inconsistent with respect for human dignity, and, in the words of Pope Francis, “torture.” [vi]
- Many state legislatures – including Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Texas – have banned the isolation of juveniles[vii] and persons with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.[viii] And more states have enacted oversight legislation.[ix]
Key provisions of the proposed bill
Now is the time to preserve and advance the progress we have made. HB 7302 does just that. With support from Democrats and Republicans, the bill advanced through the Judiciary Committee and is now awaiting a vote.
- Mandates disclosure of information regarding the use and outcomes of isolated confinement.
- Limits the use of isolated confinement against especially vulnerable individuals, like juveniles, persons with physical or intellectual disabilities, and individuals with serious mental illnesses.
- Preserves emergency discretion for the Department of Corrections to function safely and humanely.
[i] Office of Protection and Advocacy v. Choinski, Civil No. 3:03CV1352 (RNC) (D. Conn.) (challenge to conditions of confinement for mentally ill persons in Connecticut’s “supermax” prison).
[iii] Association of State Correctional Administrators & Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, Aiming to Reduce Time-In-Cell: Reports from Correctional Systems on the Number of Prisoners in Restricted Housing and on the Potential of Policy Changes to Bring About Reforms, at 62-71 (2016).
[v] See, e.g., Elias J. Atienza, Rand Paul Teams Up With Cory Booker To Place Restrictions on Solitary Confinement for Juveniles, The Libertarian Republic (Feb. 11, 2017); George Will, The Torture of Solitary Confinement, Wash. Post (Feb. 20, 2013).
[vi] Dennis Sadowski, Faith Leaders Seek Major Reforms in Solitary Confinement Practices, National Catholic Reporter (June 6, 2016); Testimony of Pat Nolan, President of Justice Fellowship, Before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences (June 19, 2012).
[vii] S.B. 2003 (N.J. 2015); S.B. 107 (Nev. 2013). S.B. 61 (California 2013); S.B. 812/H.B. 959 (Florida 2013); S.B. 1517 (Texas 2013). See generally National Conference of State Legislatures, List of States that Limit or Prohibit Juvenile Shackling and Solitary Confinement (Feb. 15, 2017).
[viii] New York enacted a law in 2008 to make it more difficult to put seriously mentally ill prisoners in long-term punitive segregation, and New York City’s Board of Correction voted in September 2013 to write new rules governing the use of isolation. 2008 N.Y. Sess. Laws 1 (McKinney) (codified as amended primarily at N.Y. Correct. Law § 1, 137, 401, & 401-a and at N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 45.07 (McKinney 2011). Massachusetts passed similar legislation in 2015, and Texas followed suit with a law that requires mental health assessments prior to placement into segregation. H.B. 1083 (Tex. 2015).
[ix] The Nebraska legislature created a position of an Inspector General for Corrections and restricts the use of segregation for mentally ill prisoners. L.B. 598 (Neb. 2015, passed and sign into law May 27, 2015). Colorado’s, Delaware’s and Maine’s legislatures ordered reports regarding the use of and alternatives to isolation, and Colorado’s legislation further directed that any savings from population reductions be directed to support mental health treatment and alternatives to segregation. Colorado Laws 2011, Ch. 289, § 1, eff. July 1, 2011 (codified at C.R.S.A. § 17-1-113.9(1); Delaware Bill. HJR 5, Commissioning An Independent Examiner To Study And Make Findings And Recommendations Concerning The Use Of Restrictive Housing In Delaware Correctional Facilities Resolution (passed 2015); Legislative Document 1611 (Maine 2009) (introduced 2009, amended and report passed 2010). The New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas legislatures directed similar studies. H.M. 62 (New Mexico 2011); S.B. 107, 2013 Leg., 77th Sess. (Nev. 2013); S.B. 1003, 2013 Leg., 83d Sess. (Tex. 2013).