Segregation Semantics

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By Nikki A. Sambitsky

The Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) is quietly reviewing its policy for segregating incarcerated people, joining a growing number of states examining alternatives to isolation. A committee of DOC staff and other corrections professionals has been studying the segregation policy for months, though the DOC provided no timetable for a final report. According to Karen Martucci, acting director of the DOC’s External Affairs Division, the DOC no longer uses solitary confinement for punishment or self-protection.

“The current Administrative Directive is under review,” says Martucci. “I do not want to speculate on any changes that may result in a review of our Administrative Segregation program. It is too premature.”

AFSCME Local 1565 Vice President John DeVito claims the DOC has already implemented changes to their segregation policy, including more frequent showers and recreation. The guards’ union plans to discuss the policy with the DOC in March, as they are unhappy with the current directive.

“AFSCME wants stricter rules for the inmates because we think [the current regulations] are too lenient. I have been doing this job for 20 years and things change. The inmates have it a lot better than they used to.”

Hope Metcalf, executive director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights and co-teacher at the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, confirms that any changes the DOC is making to their Administrative Segregation policy are in line with national trends and scientific research indicating the destructive power of isolation.

“There is now widespread recognition among medical and corrections professionals that long term isolation is harmful, expensive, and counterproductive. The two US Senate hearings documented the many costs of solitary confinement. Extreme isolation causes profound disability and exacerbates mental illness…Solitary confinement has no place in a corrections system dedicated to improving public safety,” says Metcalf.

In 2012, Yale Law School’s Visual Law Project produced The Worst of the Worst, a documentary detailing the conditions of extreme isolation at Northern Correctional Institution, a supermax prison in Somers, CT, built in the 1990’s alongside many similar institutions across the nation. Metcalf says the team discovered in 2010 that Northern isolated incarcerated individuals for long periods under debilitating conditions.

“Since the documentary’s release, the DOC has made a number of important reforms, including the creation of a step down unit at Cheshire CI, reducing the total number of people in the most severe form of Administrative Segregation, and no longer automatically return[ing] men to isolation upon re-arrest. Our hope is that the DOC will build upon these important steps to see even greater changes long term.”

Metcalf adds that the Connecticut DOC is among a growing number of states that are actively seeking tangible and lasting alternatives to solitary confinement. Colorado has officially abolished isolation for mentally ill people following Colorado DOC Executive Director Rick Raemisch’s night in Administrative Segregation, and New York banned solitary confinement for juveniles in 2014.
“Safety for all people who live and work in prisons must be a top priority, period. But we can no longer afford to think that we can lock people up and make them disappear.”

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