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Friday, April 9, 2021
Liman Center Offers CT Lawmakers Research Supporting Solitary Confinement Ban
As the Connecticut legislature considers a measure that would substantially curtail solitary confinement in the state, the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law gave lawmakers an overview of its decade of research on the topic.
The Liman Center submitted written testimony on March 22, 2021 in a support of Senate Bill 1059, popularly known as the PROTECT Act (Promoting Responsible Oversight and Treatment, and Ensuring Correctional Transparency). The proposal would generally ban extreme isolation, which the bill defines as leaving a person in a cell for more than 16 hours a day. The bill is now before the General Assembly’s Joint Judiciary Committee. Stop Solitary CT helped to draft the legislation and has worked to make it law. Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic has supported the efforts of Stop Solitary CT since 2016.
The Liman Center joined more than 130 individuals and groups submitting testimony about the PROTECT Act. The Center’s testimony provided an overview of the national surveys to document the use of solitary confinement, which prison directors call “restrictive housing” or “administrative segregation.”
In addition to curtailing solitary confinement, the bill would:
- Limit the use of restraints
- Guarantee incarcerated people a minimum number of free letters, phone calls, and social visits
- Provide resources for training and support of corrections staff
- Require data collection and reporting
- Establish an independent oversight mechanism called the Correction Accountability Commission
The Liman Center’s testimony addressed several facets of the bill, including the requirements for data collection and transparency. The Center’s researchers knew firsthand the importance of information about solitary.
“[W]e have repeatedly been struck by how little is known publicly about the practices of solitary confinement,” they wrote.
Since 2012, the Liman Center has worked with the Correctional Leaders Association (formerly the Association of State Correctional Administrators), an organization composed of the directors of state and federal prison systems. Liman and CLA have, together, produced the only national, longitudinal database on the use of solitary confinement in the United States. This data includes the number of people held in isolation and the conditions in which they live.
The most recent report found that 55,000 to 62,500 people were held in solitary confinement as of the summer of 2019. The report defines solitary confinement as being held in a cell for an average of at least 22 hours per day for 15 continuous days or more.
“The use of solitary confinement that we documented represents thousands of hours, days, months, and years of unnecessary human suffering,” the Liman Center’s testimony noted.
The 2020 report also included data on the racial demographics of solitary confinement. The data show, for example, that Black women were placed in solitary confinement at higher rates than white women.
In addition to its own research, the Liman Center cited in its testimony a “growing national consensus” on the harms of solitary confinement. People in detention, their families and advocates, medical and mental health professionals, corrections officials, policy makers, and scholars agree that the practice should be severely limited or banned, the Center wrote.
Connecticut is reevaluating solitary confinement at a time when several states are also revisiting the practice. On April 1, 2021, the governor of New York signed into law a measure to prohibit the use solitary confinement for more than 15 days. New Jersey passed a law in 2019 that limits solitary’s use and aims to ban it for certain groups, such as young people.
The Liman Center pointed to this trend and concluded by noting that Connecticut’s bill “comes at a critical juncture, as state and federal legislatures across the country are recognizing their vital role in bringing to an end the profound isolation of people held in detention,” according to the testimony.