Barbara Fair: Connecticut must make sure the prison Protect Act is enforced

The assaults this year on staff within Connecticut Department of Correction indicate a dangerous crisis brewing.

Advocates, in an attempt to improve dehumanizing conditions pushed for the passage of the Protect Act, which was signed into law in May, 2022, limiting the number of days anyone incarcerated can be held solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons, including anyone in pretrial, presentencing, and post-conviction confinement. The purpose of the law was to demand humane treatment for incarcerated people.

But much of what goes on behind bars is intentionally closed to public scrutiny.  For decades DOC has been the only state agency operating without oversight. The Protect Act calls for independent oversight. With oversight, we can shift the tide away from unchecked abuse and dehumanizing  policy that breeds a toxic and unsafe environment for both incarcerated people and correctional staff. It was a hopeful start.

Change comes with resistance. It’s expected. There will be those who prefer doing things the way they have always been done.

According to countless letters from inside, the passage of the Protect Act did not bring the expected change. In some instances, conditions worsened; therefore, violence erupting comes as no surprise. Union officials rather blame change in policy rather than the toxic environment abuse and neglect breed.

One summer attack came from someone housed at Garner Correctional, where seriously mentally ill are housed. “Doubling down” on oppressive conditions is not the most effective response to ensure the safety of both incarcerated people and correctional staff.

Leadership must have the vision, initiative and courage to keep moving forward rather than giving into resistance by rolling us backward.

Barbara Fair of New Haven is an activist, a licensed clinical social worker who has been working in prison reform for decades, and lead organizer for Stop Solitary CT.

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