Last June, Governor Lamont issued his first and only veto of 2021 to stop the PROTECT Act, S.B. 1059, a bill introduced in 2021 that would end solitary confinement and abusive restraints in the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC), and create an ombudsman for the DOC. This bill, passed by both the House and Senate, has garnered statewide support from advocacy groups like Stop Solitary CT and the Connecticut ALCU focused on ending abusive practices in Connecticut prisons. Governor Lamont’s refusal to sign the bill into law is a clear message to Connecticut’s voters that he will abuse veto privilege to maintain and uphold systems of abuse and worst-practices in Connecticut’s prisons. PROTECT Act, S.B. 1059 must be signed into law in the 2022 legislative session.
Solitary confinement is torture, and it is torture that the State of Connecticut engages in regularly. In 2019, Connecticut was ranked worst in the nation for disproportionately assigning Black men to solitary. In an interview with Abolition Ummah (TW: Sexual assault, abuse of incarcerated person) last May Yusuf Kadhafi Al Basir Mu’Min, who was recently released after 15 years of incarceration and 13 years off solitary detailed some of the horrors that he experienced while confined in solidarity in a prison without an ombudsman for the DOC.
As a Muslim man, Yusuf was denied access to weekly congregational prayers that are obligatory for him. Instead, Imams (Muslim religious readers) toured the unit and spoke to registered Muslims through a cell door. Yusuf has both physical and psychological trauma because of his time in solidarity, having endured sexual assault, emotional abuse at the hands of Cos who bragged about “killing Muslim kids” in Iraq, and physical abuse including abusive restraints. He reports a loss of hearing ability, inability to sleep without medication, anxiety, hypertension, and difficulty controlling his temper because of his time in solitary confinement,
Kiarah Pope, who is currently incarcerated at York Correctional Facility, has also been vocal about the unsafe conditions in solitary confinement. In a call-to-action letter she wrote to Abolition Ummah last spring, Kiarah noted that cells in solitary do not have measures to alert prison staff of medical emergencies. She said that staff will tour the cells of solitary every fifteen minutes or so without fully looking into the cells, and women in solitary at York who have emergencies such as a stroke would have no help between tours.
After vetoing the PROTECT Act, Governor Lamont Executive Order 21-1. Notably missing from this order is provisions for correctional oversight of the DOC. The order also gives incarcerated individuals less out of cell time than what is asked for by the act. A lack of oversight is an invitation for continued and worse abuse, as reports of sexual assault and physical abuse are ignored or tied up in clerical processes that can take months if not years to resolve. Plainly put, prison abuse thrives in secrecy, and Governor Lamont is ignoring the will of the people to bring these issues to light.
So how many incarcerated people in Connecticut are confined to solitary cells? Despite a FOIA request filed by Stop Solitary CT last year, we do not know. This lack of oversight has also contributed to a culture of mystified data on what is going on in prisons, with advocates being forced to file FOIA requests to obtain data around solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons. In their report outlining the failures of the data provided by the DOC, Stop Solitary explains how the DOC is able to work around calls for transparency, even while responding to such requests:
“The DOC’s administrative directives identify seven different restrictive statuses, which are used for different purposes and intended to last different amounts of time; all of them isolate incarcerated people. The multiple categories invite misleading statements such as former Commissioner Rollin Cook’s assertion in 2020 that only 29 individuals were on restrictive housing status––when, in fact, he later clarified, he was referring to the number of people on just one of the DOC’s seven restrictive statuses, administrative segregation.”
The PROTECT Act, as explained in the report, would address, and correct these issues by implementing external oversight, soliciting input of incarcerated people, and revising Connecticut general statutes to mandate effective data collection. These measures are essential, as it is impossible to fully understand how deep the violence of solitary confinement is without a true representation of how it is wielded in prisons across the state.
As we fight for a new world without cells and sites of displacement, the end of solitary confinement in Connecticut’s prisons will mark a life-affirming step to end the psychological torture of our incarcerated men, women, and children. The PROTECT Act must be signed into law this session, and our representatives must poise themselves for an over ride vote if Governor Lamont continues to ignore the will of the people.
Haddiyyah Ali, 25, is a Connecticut native, mentor, writer, and poet. She co-founded Abolition Ummah, a Muslim-led organization working to improve the material conditions of incarcerated Muslims and fighting for the abolition of prisons and police.