The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Prison locked down for 3 days. Advocates are demanding answers.
Inmates at New Haven Correctional Center recently spend three days in a facility-wide lockdown. Prison reform advocates say that flies against the spirit, if not the letter of a 2022 law.
“New Haven Correctional Center was placed on lockdown on Friday, May 19,” said state Department of Correction spokesperson Ashley McCarthey said Monday. “We are unable to share details due to it being an active investigation.”
McCarthy confirmed that the lockdown ended Monday. She did not say what type of investigation caused the lockdown, or how often such lockdowns occur.
Barbara Fair, lead organizer with prison reform advocates Stop Solitary Connecticut, said an investigation was a way around the 2022 PROTECT Act, which limited the amount of time prisoners may be kept in isolation.
“Since the passage of the PROTECT Act this department has found many ways to keep people in cages for as much as they can even though a law was passed to end its use of isolation,” she said. “What possible excuse can they have for keeping people caged all weekend without even access to a decent shower? Is a ‘pending investigation’ really all that is required to continue this abuse of power?”
McCarthy said limiting movement of inmates within the facility is within the DOC’s power.
“We are committed to the safety and security of every individual throughout our facilities,” she said. “In the event we learn of information that poses a risk to the individuals in our care, a facility may restrict movement while a thorough investigation is completed.”
The measure, signed into law last year by Gov. Ned Lamont, defines a “lockdown” as “the enforced detainment of all incarcerated persons within such persons’ cells imposed upon an entire correctional facility or part of such facility, other than for the purpose of administrative meetings.”
The PROTECT Act limits the amount of time inmates may be kept in isolation, but carves out exceptions for facility-wide emergencies, lockdowns and mental health treatment.
That law followed a now-expired 2021 executive order signed by Lamont which stipulated that “incarcerated persons in the general population shall be held in isolated confinement only due to disciplinary status,” outside of “extraordinary circumstances.”
When signing the act into law, Lamont said it made clear that “isolated confinement should only be used in extreme circumstances.” “I am very proud that our executive order led to this compromise bill, and that many elements of that executive order are now being codified into law,” he said at the time.
The PROTECT Act also created an independent ombudsperson, whose role it is to investigate complaints regarding the Department of Correction. Fair said the lack of information on the cause of extended lockdowns is why oversight was necessary.
“This is exactly why Department of Correction requires independent oversight,” she said.