Bill limiting solitary confinement moves forward; advocates say it doesn't go far enough
For years, state lawmakers have tried to limit solitary confinement in prison. A new plan moved forward Thursday, but it falls short of what many advocates have spent years fighting for.
The General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved the latest version of the PROTECT Act, which is stripped down from the original proposal.
The bill doesn’t end solitary confinement, but would limit the practice in these ways:
- Inmates would get least two hours a day outside of their cells
- Solitary confinement limited to 15 straight days, and no more than 30 days within a two month period
- Within 24 hours, prisoners would get medical and mental evaluations. A therapist would conduct a daily mental health check too.
- Inmates would have access to reading and writing materials
- Solitary would be banned for minors. The original version also prohibited it for seniors and pregnant inmates.
The PROTECT Act also limits prison lockdowns.
"This bill before us is a compromise,” said State Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield), who represents hundreds of corrections officers.
It's a compromise that falls well-short of previous attempts. Gone are restrictions on inmate restraints and strip searches. Instead, the Connecticut Department of Corrections will have to work with lawmakers to limit their use.
The change came after corrections officers testified last week that limiting restraints puts them in danger.
"There are many concerns among many staff members throughout the state about the safe conditions currently, without putting anything else in place," said corrections officer Amanda Tower.
Lawmakers approved a stricter bill last year, but Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed it over safety concerns. Instead, he issued an executive order limiting excessive use of solitary confinement.
The revised PROTECT Act also creates a new Correction Advisory Committee to provide more oversight. The committee will include a former inmate.
Some Democrats say this year's compromise doesn't go far enough. They want solitary confinement banned altogether.
"It is inhumane. It is torture," said state Rep. Robyn Porter (D-Hamden). "When you cage people and you treat them like animals, well, if they start to behave that way, we shouldn't be surprised.”
The solitary confinement bill now heads to the full state Senate. Another bill advanced to the state House Thursday repealing a requirement that former inmates re-pay the state for the cost of their incarceration.