Clinic Asks U.N. Special Rapporteur to Declare CT Department of Correction “Tortures”

Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic filed an allegation letter to the United Nations documenting the use of solitary confinement and other abusive practices by the Connecticut Department of Correction, arguing that such practices constitute torture under international law.

The Clinic has been investigating the conditions in Connecticut prisons since 2010. The letter was submitted to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, on behalf of individuals who are currently or were formerly incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s supermax prison. Fifteen men submitted statements in support for the submission to the Special Rapporteur, in which they described their experiences of neglect and abuse at Northern and other Connecticut prisons.  

The submission alleges that the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) systematically relies on indefinite isolation to punish and control prisoners, including those with serious mental illness. DOC policies authorize confining people for 22 to 23 hours a day.  

The submission also documents the routine use of “in-cell restraints.” DOC policy authorizes staff to restrain prisoners within a locked cell, shackled at the hands and feet, with a tether chain connecting the two chains. The DOC imposes in-cell restraints for a default of 24 hours and often for 72 hours. The Clinic alleges that in practice, DOC staff often short-shackle prisoners so that they cannot fully stand and fasten cuffs so tightly that prisoners’ hands and legs bleed. The cells in which prisoners are shackled are often freezing and covered with urine and feces.

“The shackles regularly prevent the men from being able to stand up straight, wipe themselves after using the toilet, or even lift food to their mouths — some describe having no choice but to dump the food out on the floor and eat it like a dog,” said Iva Velickovic ’19, a member of the Lowenstein Clinic team.

According to Velickovic, “Without any developed alternative mental health care, staff in Connecticut prisons end up using excessive force in lieu of providing adequate care to inmates — force that is sanctioned by DOC policies.” The submission states that mentally ill prisoners are denied treatment or therapy and punished for their condition: for instance, the submission cites examples of prisoners being put into in-cell or full-body restraints for several days after they attempt serious self-harm.

“The DOC’s reliance on torture puts everyone at risk — the people who work at Northern, the people who are forced to live there, and the communities to which they return,” said Taylor Burgess, an LL.M. student and another member of the Lowenstein Clinic. “It’s high time for us to replace the use of prolonged solitary confinement and in-cell restraints with constructive and safe alternatives.”

“What happened to me should not happen to anyone else,” said Leighton Johnson, who spent several years in solitary confinement at Northern and described the destructive physical and psychological effects of solitary in a supporting statement to the Clinic’s Special Rapporteur submission. “I’m working to advocate for those who are still on the inside and make sure the world knows about the harmful effects of solitary confinement.”

On May 16, 2019, at a public forum hosted by Stop Solitary Connecticut, the Clinic team will present on their investigation and findings. (The forum will be 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at New Haven Free Public Library at 133 Elm St. See full event details here).

READ: Letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture here.