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CT Lawmakers, Public to See Solitary Confinement Firsthand

Mental health experts say prolonged isolation can worsen and even cause mental illness. (jmiller291/Flickr)
Mental health experts say prolonged isolation can worsen and even cause mental illness. (jmiller291/Flickr)
February 20, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. – Lawmakers and advocates for people in prison on Tuesday are bringing a replica of a solitary confinement cell to the State Capitol as they call for reform legislation.

Their point is that solitary confinement can worsen or even cause mental illness, and that prolonged isolation is considered a form of torture.

According David McGuire, director of the ACLU of Connecticut, the state has made a lot of progress toward curbing the use of solitary in its prisons, but so far, those changes have been administrative.

"What we're looking to do is pass a law that would memorialize a lot of these informal changes in statute, so that a future correction commissioner cannot change that at the stroke of a pen," he states.

The public will be able to visit the replica of the cell in the Capitol building from Tuesday to March 2, and see firsthand what people in solitary confinement experience for 23 hours a day.

McGuire points out that the degree of isolation can be extreme.

"In super max, the time out of the cell is spent in a cage outside, so even that is very, very restrictive,” he says. “So, we are calling for a law that would ban the use of solitary confinement on people with mental health issues."

The current practice in the state is to screen those going into solitary for mental health problems, and young people are no longer held at the super max facility.

There are currently about 30 people in solitary confinement in Connecticut. That's down from 250 just a few years ago.

McGuire says that's due in large part to the efforts of Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple.

"The commissioner is someone who we've collaborated on this with,” McGuire points out. “He is quite forward thinking, so I think that this bill has a real shot at passing this year."

The General Assembly is expected to hold a hearing on the issue within the next few weeks.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT