Solitary confinement is a form of torture. It must end.
Solitary Confinement is torture and must end. Let me explain why. The Connecticut legislature is considering Senate Bill 1059 – The Protect Act. The Judiciary Committee has reported it out and it is tabled for the Senate calendar. The time is ripe for action.
On March 22, in a public hearing that lasted more than 11 hours, our representatives heard the passionate voices of people affected by solitary confinement. They heard from formerly incarcerated survivors, prison staff traumatized by their working environment, and loving mothers whose children were tortured in prison. They heard statements from prisoners, even some in solitary. These were very powerful. One individual, William McKinney, testified from Osborn Correctional Institution, a prison where I have facilitated courses.
I am an Episcopal priest who has worked with prisoners for 15 years, most recently in Osborn, Cybulski and Corrigan (all Connecticut correctional facilities). Writing from a prison I have visited many times, McKinney testified to the profound harms of solitary confinement. He recounted past experiences being chained up in a cell, covered in blood and feces for 72 hours straight. He said his years spent without any meaningful social interaction have permanently damaged his ability to be with other people.
He is not the only one who has been subject to these grave abuses. A 2019 human rights investigation documented that the Department of Corrections was — a) a frequent user of long-term and indefinite solitary confinement, and b) a practitioner of placing people in painful, full-body shackles for hours or days at a time. Furthermore, the DOC is currently being sued by a disability rights group for inflicting those conditions on people with mental illnesses.
I offer programs in prisons because my faith calls me to honor the humanity of every person. In my baptismal vows, I promised to work for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
There is no dignity in solitary confinement. There is no justice in chaining human beings for 72 hours straight. There is no gain in locking people away in isolation, without human touch or connection, until they lose their minds.
The torture of prisoners is an act against God and against our common humanity. The HALT Solitary Confinement campaign in New York found that the rate of suicide is five times higher in solitary units than in the general prison population. Solitary has also been found to increase the risk of premature death after release. To place human beings in solitary confinement given these risks is unconscionable.
New York recently passed legislation ending long-term isolation. Connecticut can be next.
In the coming weeks, the legislature will decide whether to pass the PROTECT Act, SB 1059. Among other changes, this bill would prohibit isolated confinement for more than 72 hours except in temporary emergency situations, prevent abusive shackling practices such as those used on Mr. McKinney, and implement an ombudsman’s office to provide oversight of the prison system.
Connecticut must take this chance to strive for justice and to end torture. For the sake of all our humanity, we must stop solitary confinement.
To help contact your legislator or the Senate leadership and ask them to bring Senate Bill 1059 up for a vote. You can contact Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney at Looney@senatedems.ct.gov; and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff at Duff@senatedems.ct.gov.
Rev. Ann Perrott is the priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Middle Haddam, and a member of Stop Solitary CT.
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