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Politics

Lamont Vetoes Limits On Solitary Confinement And Issues Executive Order

Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have set statutory limits on the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons, instead issuing an executive order limiting the practice.The veto of the so-called PROTECT Act, the first of 2021 and only his fourth since taking office in 2019, puts him at odds with criminal justice reformers who had been lobbying the governor and lawmakers with a near-daily vigil outside a state Capitol closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His executive order appeared aimed at softening the political blow and addressing the advocates’ policy concerns without yielding executive authority — in this case the ability of the Department of Correction to use a disciplinary tool it refers to as administrative segregation.

The executive order declares that by Sept. 1 incarcerated people in the general population will be held in isolated confinement only because of their disciplinary status, and that by Oct. 1 anyone in isolated confinement will be allowed out of their cell for two hours a day except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

By Dec. 1, the order states, “no person shall be held in prolonged solitary confinement.”

In his veto message, Lamont said, “I fully support the purpose of this legislation, to make certain that isolated confinement is not used in any correctional facility in Connecticut.”

He also said he declined to sign the bill because “it puts the safety of incarcerated persons and correction employees at substantial risk.”

Lamont wrote that the bill puts “unreasonable and dangerous limits on the use of restraints.” He said it only permits certain corrections officers to order the use of handcuffs, and only allows therapists to order restraints during a psychiatric emergency.

The governor pointed out that captains are not always supervising the prisons and jails, and may not be on duty over weekends.

“To require that a correctional officer wait for the authorizations of a captain to restrain an incarcerated person involved in a serious physical altercation risks the lives of incarcerated persons and correction employees,” wrote Lamont.

Lamont also said the bill jeopardizes safety by denying the DOC flexibility to limit visitors to correctional facilities. Under the PROTECT Act, Lamont said, the DOC couldn’t deny a contact visit solely based on the visitor’s criminal history, meaning people convicted of smuggling drugs into prisons could be allowed into a correctional facility for a 60-minute contact visit with a prisoner, visitations that could present a heightened risk for the transfer of contraband, including weapons and drugs, into prisons and jails.

“The Department must have the ability to set reasonable visitation policies that promote family and community connections, while limiting safety and security risks,” Lamont wrote.

Also of concern were the provisions of the bill dealing with the ombudsman program, which would have acted as a watchdog in an attempt to ensure transparency and accountability.

Lamont noted that the legislation gave the watchdog access to DOC records, with certain exceptions, and said he was worried this could lead to security breaches at correctional facilities; he also said the bill raises questions about whether the ombudsperson could access, and then disclose, records protected by attorney-client and work product privileges.

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