HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– Governor Ned Lamont started the week announcing the closure of a maximum-security prison but criminal justice advocates say more should be done.
Leighton Johnson spent five years at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers. He says some inmates spent so much time in isolation that they barely saw the light of day.
“That destroys families. That destroys people’s minds. That destroys a person. It either exasperates or introduces mental illnesses,” said Johnson, who is now the Public Education Coordinator for StopSolitaryCT.
On Monday, Governor Ned Lamont announced he’s closing Northern, a maximum-security prison. His reason: Connecticut’s prison population has dropped by more than 3,000 inmates over the past year.
By mid-week, the same advocates who have been calling for that closure stood on the north steps of the Capitol to urge Lamont to go further.
“Closing Northern is just a step towards what we plan to do in the state of Connecticut when it comes around criminal justice and how it destroys our families and our communities,” said Barbara Fair of New Haven.
Governor Lamont says closing Northern will save the state 12.6 million annually. Criminal justice advocates say they want to see that money reinvested in social justice.
“You’re talking about the reason you’re shutting it down is for money. The reason we’re in this fight is for human lives,” said Johnson.
The ACLU says racial disparities in Connecticut are among the worst in the country. They joined advocates from StopSolitaryCT who want to see the legislature pass something known as the “PROTECT Act” to demolish Northern and stop practices like solitary confinement.
“We need to know how it will be closed and we need to know it will never be opened again,” said Josephy Gaylin of StopSolitaryCT.
Commissioner Quiros’ office issued the following statment:
“Commissioner Quiros has personally met with the Stop Solitary group and expressed his commitment to enhance policies associated with restrictive status.
Holding a rally to speak out against solitary confinement 24 hours after a historical announcement to close the most secure prison in the state is sending a message that there never was any genuine interest in understanding our work and allowing the new leadership to put change into motion.
Our priority will continue to be operating safe correctional facilities that protect our employees and the population they manage.”