Prisons Need An Overhaul

Gov. M. Jodi Rell thinks the correction commissioner, Theresa Lantz, is simply marvelous. Rell said so at a press conference July 2.

Rell should think again and examine exactly what is going on in Connecticut's prisons. On this issue alone, the operations of our jail system, careers will be made and lost.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal – the perennial, potential nominee for governor – tarnished his reputation irrevocably by his handling of the case against the inmate writers of the book “Couldn't Keep It To Myself.” As Blumenthal tried to pretend in a “60 Minutes” interview that he was doing the right thing all along by punishing those who tried to rehabilitate themselves, then flip-flopping, Lantz joined him in the pathetic slobbering and lies. Some of the lies are about the ongoing punishment of prisoners who are trying to redeem themselves against all odds.

During the “60 Minutes” broadcast in May, Lantz tap-danced clumsily about the shutdown of the writing program run by acclaimed novelist Wally Lamb at the Niantic jail. The program was closed down after one of the writers, Barbara Lane, won a $25,000 freedom-of-speech award from the international writers' group, PEN. As part of the shutdown, the writers were forced to surrender all of their hard drives and diskettes, as well as personal papers. Lane lost years of work that cannot be retrieved. Despite public assurances by Lantz and her minions, much of the material was not returned.

Throughout this debacle, Lantz squandered a chance to make Lane and her colleagues “poster-children” for prison rehabilitation. Lantz instead made the ludicrous assertion that the program was shut down for security concerns.

Writer Tabatha Rowley righteously called that claim precisely what it is: “crap.”

“There are women in prison that are part of the writers group,” Rowley said. “No one ever tried to do anything to them.”

Except the staff and Lantz and Blumenthal.

During a recent graduation ceremony at the Niantic jail, inmates were recognized for all sorts of accomplishments, even perfect attendance. The only official recognition of Lane came from a staff member who asked her, “Are you going to buy $25,000 worth of drugs with that money?” Lane also stuck her neck out for an issue Lantz and her goons only pretend to deal with: sexual assault of inmates by staff.

Lane witnessed the alleged sexual assault of fellow writer Bonnie Foreshaw by a guard on Aug. 24, 2003. Lane gave a statement and is sticking by it.

The Correction Department went through the motions of an investigation to clear the accused guard and make the case go away. The bosses relied on a “witness” statement by a staff member who was not working that day.

Lantz has refused repeated requests to produce the state police reports in her possession or control regarding that so-called first investigation. The state Freedom of Information Commission has scheduled a hearing July 21 on my request to produce those records and others.

Meanwhile, the state police re-opened the Foreshaw assault probe and the FBI began a preliminary civil rights investigation.

This case exemplifies the wrongdoing by correction officials on Lantz's watch. There are plenty of other areas for Rell to review, especially the department's failure to take responsibility for its mistreatment of mentally-ill prisoners.

Andy Thibault, author of “Law & Justice In Everyday Life,” is adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Hartford and Managing Partner of Murzin-Thibault Investigative Group LLC. Website, www.andythibault.com
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