In the News
By Kelan Lyons, September 4
The air trapped in the narrow, windowless hallways of Northern Correctional Institution feels thick and tense. The Somers facility seems like it’s underground, its inmates even further isolated from the outside world than those incarcerated in other prisons around the state.
The gray concrete floors and cinderblock walls give Dan Barrett, the ACLU of Connecticut’s legal director, the impression he’s in a mortuary, not the state’s most secure penitentiary.
“It’s so quiet. It’s so desolate. The footsteps echo,” Barrett said. “The place is like a tomb.
By Kelan Lyons, August 30
A federal judge’s ruling earlier this week that the state is imprisoning former death row inmates under cruel and unusual conditions at Northern Correctional Institution could upend the way Connecticut treats prisoners who were originally sentenced to die.
State officials would not say Thursday whether they intend to appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill.
By Victoria Law, August 12
For nine and a half months, Lydia Thornton was locked into her cell nearly 24 hours a day. All of her meals were slid through a slot in the cell’s steel door. She was allowed outside to shower three times each week. Through cinderblock walls, she could hear women in adjoining cells screaming for hours on end. Sometimes they threatened to kill themselves, a threat often followed by an eerie silence.
This was administrative segregation, or “ad seg,” in New Jersey’s prison system. Ad seg is one of the many official terms for solitary confinement; other systems call it punitive segregation, special housing units and keeplock. Regardless of the name, the reality is that people spend nearly 24 hours locked in their cell each day with little to no human contact.
Thornton has been out of prison since 2015. Since then, she’s been fighting to ensure that others don’t go through that same experience.
Yale Law School Clinic Asks U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to Declare Connecticut Department of Correction “Tortures” in CT Prisons
Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic filed an allegation letter to the United Nations documenting the use of solitary confinement and other abusive practices by the Connecticut Department of Correction, arguing that such practices constitute torture under international law.
The Clinic has been investigating the conditions in Connecticut prisons since 2010. The letter was submitted to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, on behalf of individuals who are currently or were formerly incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s supermax prison. Fifteen men submitted statements in support for the submission to the Special Rapporteur, in which they described their experiences of neglect and abuse at Northern and other Connecticut prisons.
The submission alleges that the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) systematically relies on indefinite isolation to punish and control prisoners, including those with serious mental illness. DOC policies authorize confining people for 22 to 23 hours a day.
By Barbara Fair, June 22
After months of tireless work to bring awareness to state legislators about the harm associated with solitary confinement, a bill was passed that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what must happen to humanize criminal justice in this state. When states as notorious for prisoner abuse as California and Texas are making changes in prisoner treatment, one must wonder why Connecticut is lagging behind.
By Daniela Altimari, June 7
A bill that places new limits on the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons is headed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for consideration following final passage in the House Wednesday.
The measure would provide greater transparency around the use of solitary confinement and limit the Department of Correction's ability to place prisoners under 18 in the harshest form of solitary confinement.
By Lori Mack, February 24
"The "Inside the Box" project invites people to spend some time in a full-size replica of a prison cell. Lori Mack (@lmackwnpr) of Here & Now contributor WNPR paid a visit to the exhibit during a stop in New Haven, Connecticut, and has our story."
By Christine Stuart, February 22 5:30am
"He was just one of many Tuesday left by themselves under a fluorescent light in a small cell with a bunk, but unlike the estimated 80,000 inmates nationwide in solitary confinement, Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, was able to leave after two hours.
The cell was a replica built by lawyers, psychiatrists and religious leaders who are bringing a national movement to limit the use of solitary confinement to Connecticut.
Lawmakers and visitors to the state Capitol are being encouraged to experience what it would be like to be in solitary confinement. There’s a sign-up sheet where anyone willing can sit by themselves in the cell where they can hear the hum of the light and recorded sounds from an actual prison in Maine."
"Connecticut Commissioner of Corrections Scott Semple began his talk Thursday by stating a fundamental belief: that “a system without hope is a system in chaos.” It is this conviction that has motivated the many corrections reforms Semple discussed in the talk, “What does a progressive prison system look like?
In his two years as commissioner, Semple has implemented a number of reforms that have helped Connecticut achieve one of the most progressive prison systems in the country, with remarkably low rates of recidivism and use of solitary confinement.”
By Karen Sloan, February 16
"Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Library is housing more than just legal tomes and bleary-eyed students this week.
In between the stacks stands a replicated solitary confinement cell, with gray cinder block walls, fluorescent lights, and a prison toilet-sink combo. The 10-by-12-foot cell was installed in the library for seven days as part of an anti-solitary confinement campaign arranged by a consortium of Connecticut churches, civil rights organizations and Yale entities.
“It’s almost an assault on your senses,” said Sameer Jaywant, a second-year Yale law student who helped bring the cell to campus through the school’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic.
“The light is very reminiscent of correctional institutions, or even mental institutions. The sounds — the audio is taken from a real jail — are very striking. There’s an echoing sound of people banging on metal, and yelling and screaming. There’s also a feeling of claustrophobia. You’re penned in. There’s nowhere to go. The longer you sit in there, the more it feels like the walls are closing in on you a little bit.”"
By Siduri Beckman, Feb 16
"Last week, I drove to Hartford to observe a hearing of the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which focused on the issue of solitary confinement. At the meeting, a woman testified about her experience in “administrative segregation” during her 23-year sentence in Connecticut: “They’re not correctional officers. They don’t correct anything. They punish. That’s why I call them guards.”
Solitary confinement is a well-established practice in the United States. Although the intent of Quakers and Calvinists was to isolate convicts for spiritual reflection, the term quickly picked up a negative connotation. Today, correctional facilities maintain that practices like “administrative segregation” and “special housing units” are necessary for keeping order in prisons across America."
By Andrew Ballard, February 8
"Haunting shrieks, the repeated pounding of a steel door, the echoing voices of guards and then silence: These are sounds Yalies will hear when they step “Inside the Box” at Sterling Memorial Library’s latest exhibit — a life-sized solitary confinement cell to raise awareness of what organizers call a hidden form of torture.
The windowless replica, no bigger than a large closet, is modeled after a solitary unit in a Wisconsin prison and is accompanied by recordings from a facility in Maine. Aiming to educate the public while pushing for legislative action, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture led the effort to bring the cell to New Haven. The project drew wide support from activist organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, three New Haven churches, several organizations at the Law School and the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project. The exhibit will stand outside the library’s Starr Reference Room until Feb. 12."
By Lori Mack, February 2, 8am
"A traveling exhibit, now in New Haven, aims to give people the opportunity to experience solitary confinement and learn about its effects. It includes a replica of a prison cell and people are invited to go "Inside the Box."
The door closed behind me as I walked into a grey cell that’s 10 feet by 12 feet. It had a toilet, sink, and a wooden box for a bed. There was an overhead fluorescent light and recorded sounds from an actual prison.
Reverend Allie Perry, board president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, explained that it's actually a sound track from a supermax prison in Maine."
By David Dunavin, February 1, 9am
"An exhibit in New Haven, Connecticut, lets people spend a few minutes inside of a solitary confinement cell. "Inside the Box" is a replica solitary cell created by a religious human rights group that says it wants to show people solitary confinement is essentially torture.
The exhibit is a 10 X 12 foot gray box. It sits in the middle of a room in the New Haven Free Public Library. When you step inside, the sound of a busy reception goes away, and is replaced with rattling, pounding and almost inhuman screams."
By Esteban L. Hernandez, January 30, 9:19 pm
"The torture lasted about a month. That’s how Keishar Tucker said he remembers it.
It was Tucker’s first stint in solitary confinement inside Northern Correctional Institution in Somers. Tucker said he couldn’t deal with his prison experience, so he often acted out. So into the solitary cell he went. It was the first of several stays for an experience the New Haven resident said he considers torture.
“It’s designed to break you down,” Tucker said. “It’s definitely inhumane. We need to put a stop to it.”
By Nicholas Rondinone, January 30, 8:36pm
"Keishar Tucker's first experience in solitary confinement was when he was 17. Nearly two decades later, it hasn't left him.
"I still suffer ... I have anxiety attacks. It's just a place that no one should have to endure," Tucker, now 35, said. Sometimes it was for weeks, other times it was for months, during his 10 or so years in prison after a larceny conviction."
By Kent Pierce, January 30, 2017, 11:14 am
"NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Starting Monday, the public gets a chance to experience what solitary confinement is like. A traveling exhibition of a replica cell is in New Haven for the next three weeks.
The first stop is the New Haven Free Public Library, and if you come to the library to be alone, now you can really be alone. You can step inside a solitary confinement prison cell."
By Markeshia Ricks, Jan 30, 2017 4:14 pm
"State Rep. Robyn Porter sat inside a 10 foot-by-12 foot box looking at the blue cinderblock walls. Listening to the sounds of prison, she got a taste of what her son once experienced.
“I started to think about how my son had been in prison and how he had sat in a [solitary] cell,” she recalled Monday.
Porter didn’t go to jail herself. She took a turn sitting inside a replica of a maximum-security prison cell in Wisconsin, newly on display at the downtown Ives branch of the New Haven Free Public Library."