Bill limiting solitary confinement goes to Conn. governor for signature

“It doesn’t eliminate the use of solitary confinement, but it puts significant restrictions on its use," said Rep. Steven Stafstrom


By Christopher Keating
Hartford Courant
        
HARTFORD, Conn. — One year after a veto by Gov. Ned Lamont, state legislators have passed a revised bill limiting solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons.

The compromise bill has gained the support of the state’s prison commissioner and will be signed by Lamont, officials said Friday.

Rep. Steven Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s judiciary committee, said the bipartisan compromise was negotiated by the corrections department and advocates who wanted to eliminate solitary confinement completely.

Caron Butler (middle) listens to speaker Reginald Dwayne Betts talk about his experiences in solitary confinement during a press conference at the Connecticut State Capitol on June 7, 2021.
Caron Butler (middle) listens to speaker Reginald Dwayne Betts talk about his experiences in solitary confinement during a press conference at the Connecticut State Capitol on June 7, 2021. (Mark Mirko)

“I think it strikes the right balance,’' Stafstrom told reporters Friday. “It doesn’t eliminate the use of solitary confinement, but it puts significant restrictions on its use and makes clear that it should be used only in extreme circumstances. ... My understanding is the governor will sign it.’'

The state House of Representatives voted 98-45 for the measure shortly before 11:30 p.m. Thursday, a day after the bill had been passed by the Senate by 29-6 on a bipartisan basis.

The bill prevents a prisoner from being held in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days or 30 days within a two-month period — a sharp change from the long periods that prisoners had been held in the past. The measure also prevents any minors under the age of 18 from being held in isolated confinement at all.

The 34-page bill creates a nine-member advisory committee that will help choose candidates to be the correction ombudsman, who will be chosen by the governor after the committee interviews multiple candidates. The independent ombudsman will serve for two years, but the term can be renewed.

The compromise was necessary this year because of Lamont’s veto last year that was not overridden by the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Lamont agreed with prison supervisors who rallied against the initial bill by saying the measure was too broad and would jeopardize the safety of both prison guards and inmates.

“This legislation places unreasonable and dangerous limits on the use of restraints,” Lamont wrote in his veto message. “The bill … only permits correctional officers with the rank of captain or higher to order the use of handcuffs and only permits therapists to order restraints during the psychiatric emergency.”

In a long-running push, advocates erected a room on the first floor of the state Capitol to simulate what it would be like to be in solitary confinement. They also stood outside the Capitol each day near the end of the legislative session last year, and former UConn basketball superstar Caron Butler made a plea to Lamont to sign the bill.

Nearly a year later, Lamont and advocates have resolved the issues.

“Gov. Lamont appreciates all of the advocates for meeting with the leadership of the Department of Correction and developing a solution for these concerns that focuses on minimizing the long-term impacts of incarceration while simultaneously maintaining a safe and secure environment for correction staff and individuals in custody,’' said David Bednarz, Lamont’s spokesman. “Similar to the executive order issued by the governor last year, this legislation meets those objectives, and he looks forward to signing it into law.”

©2022 Hartford Courant.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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