A group of activists gathered Sunday in front of the Cheshire Correctional Institution to hold a vigil for incarcerated people who are being held in isolation.
They’re part of the Stop Solitary CT campaign, which is pushing for legislation this session to abolish the use of solitary confinement.
The group also wants to cap the amount of time people in prison should spend in their cells at 16 hours a day.
Colleen Lord’s son, Carl Robert Talbot, died 11 months ago in a segregation cell at the New Haven Correctional Center. Lord says her son was a nonviolent offender who struggled with serious mental illness.
“He was found deceased in five-point restraints, where he had been placed because he hadn’t gotten up from the shower floor after not being given his medication,” Lord said Sunday. “Videos show he was never a threat, never a threat, never fought back. But he was restrained as being noncompliant. This is not at all what I thought was going on in solitary confinement for my whole life, up until now.”
Talbot’s death was ruled a homicide by Connecticut’s chief medical examiner. The death is now the subject of a criminal investigation by Milford State’s Attorney Margaret Kelley.
The U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation last year into the use of solitary confinement at the Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire. And in August, a federal judge ruled that the prison conditions of a former death row inmate at Northern Correctional Institution constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Stop Solitary CT is pushing for the closure of Northern, Connecticut’s super-maximum security prison.
Leighton Johnson of New Haven, outreach coordinator of Stop Solitary CT, talked about his time as an inmate at Northern.
He was sent there from MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution after disciplinary problems. Johnson said he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and described recurring dreams, social anxiety and an inability to communicate.
“People are already punished by going to prison,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying that if you are violent there shouldn’t be any sanctions. But I want people to also know that there are other forms of solitary confinement. People are in their cells all day. There are a lot of people who have mental health issues due to these practices or they already had issues and it’s exacerbated. And then these people are released back into the community. So this is a public health crisis, and it affects everybody.”
In response to the push to end solitary confinement, the Connecticut Department of Correction told Connecticut Public Radio the state is a national leader in terms of having the lowest use of administrative segregation.
“Out of a population of approximately 12,000 -- there are less than 30 offenders on this temporary status,” said Department of Correction spokeswoman Karen Martucci.
“The goal,” she said in a statement, “is to deliver programming opportunities that will correct the dangerous and disruptive behavior and return to general population. One thing people often overlook is that reform and reentry efforts are impossible without safe prisons. We routinely review our restrictive status programs with an eye towards improvements.”
Meanwhile, a replica solitary cell will be displayed this week in Hartford as part of the Stop Solitary CT campaign.