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Solitary confinement bill heads to Gov. Lamont’s desk

Lori Mack/WNPR

For the second year in a row, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill to limit the Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement on those in the state’s prisons and jails.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont, who vetoed a similar proposal last year.

This year’s measure largely codifies an executive order Lamont issued in place of his veto, a set of policies he said better protected the incarcerated population and those who work in the correction system. The bill would also establish independent oversight of the Department of Correction, reestablishing an ombuds office that had been open for 37 years before it was shuttered in 2010 to save money, as well as a correction advisory committee that meets and works with the ombuds regularly.

The governor, the Department of Correction and advocates reached an agreement on this year’s proposal, likely avoiding another veto.

The Senate passed the bill 29-6 on April 27. The House approved it 98-45 the next evening.

At least 27 people submitted testimony on the bill from their prison cells. They compared being in solitary to torture. They talked about how isolation affects their mental health and how solitary makes them feel broken when they go home. They told legislators how incarceration makes them feel like animals, imploring their elected officials to see them as human.

“It is time that prisoners are viewed as fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, as loved ones, as members of the community, as human beings,” wrote Roberto Alvarado.

Others talked about the things they’ve done while imprisoned. Noah Wade Hendron told legislators about how he was a teacher’s assistant at Cheshire Correctional Institution, helping to change his incarcerated peers’ lives through education.

“Helping other men get their G.E.D. is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done. It opens doors that they never knew existed,” he wrote.

Hendron asked legislators to put an end to “needless lockdowns, solitary and restraints,” which he said dehumanize people and make it harder for them to have healthy relationships when they go home.

He ended his two-page handwritten letter with a simple statement, a message he hoped lawmakers would keep in mind as they considered the bill : “We’re not all bad.”

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