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New Connecticut Law Restricts Use of Solitary Confinement

by David M. Reutter and Keith Sanders

A law that severely limits the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut jails and prisons took effect July 1, 2022. It also creates an ombudsman position within the state Department of Corrections (DOC), selected from candidates nominated by a new nine-member advisory panel that also oversees the use of solitary.

“This law makes it clear that isolated confinement should only be used in extreme circumstances,” said Gov. Ned Lamont (D). “It also increases transparency and provides greater independent oversight of our correctional facilities.”

That’s a U-turn for a governor who refused to meet with anti-solitary advocates as recently as September 2020. [See: PLN, Apr. 2021, p.24.] Lamont also vetoed a similar bill in 2021 over concerns voiced by unions representing guards, who argue it would cause unsafe conditions in prisons.

But the governor issued an Executive Order that took effect in September 2021, limiting the use of isolation to disciplinary reasons. It also required two hours of daily time out of cell for those in solitary, except under “extraordinary circumstances.” Many elements of that order made it into the new law, something of which Lamont said he was “very proud.” That includes limitations on the use of solitary for those under 18 or over 65, as well as those who are pregnant or suffering mental health or developmental disabilities.

Lamont worked with advocacy groups like Stop Solitary CT to craft the legislation, Public Act 22-18. It passed the state Legislature on April 28, 2022, and the governor signed it into law on May 10, 2022.

“I can finally exhale because I know it’s actually signed,” said Barbara Fair, lead organizer at Stop Solitary CT.

Six of the nine members of the Correction Advisory Committee created under the new law will be appointed by the majority and ranking members of the state House and Senate. Lamont will make the other three appointments and select an ombudsman from candidates the committee nominates. Members will then meet quarterly to oversee what the ombudsman does.

About 9,400 people are held in isolation in the state’s jails and prisons, with approximately 8.3% of them — roughly 780 prisoners and detainees — classified as members of a vulnerable population. The new law limits all to a stay of 15 consecutive days and no more than 30 days total in any 60-day period. Isolation also may not be used to hold anyone in protective custody for more than five days. Moreover, a lockdown may not be imposed on any part of a prison for training purposes for more than 24 cumulative hours in a 30-day period.

The law increased the required daily out-of-cell time for those in solitary to four hours on July 1, 2022. That rose to four-and-a-half hours on October 1, 2022, and will rise to five hours by April 2023. Strip searches are also curtailed. DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros said the bill “shows what can be accomplished through negotiation and collaboration.”

“At the end of the day, we all have the same goal,” he added, “the successful reintegration of those in our care.” 

Additional source: Connecticut News Junkie

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