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Testimony Supporting Senate Bill 1059 with Qualifications – An Act Concerning the Correction Accountability Commission. The Office of the Correction Ombuds. The Use of Isolated Confinement, Seclusion and Restraints, Social Contacts for People Who Are Incarcerated

SB 1059 – The Protect Act

https://www.cga.ct.gov/2021/TOB/S/PDF/2021SB-01059-R00-SB.PDF

My name is Cindy Prizio. I am the Executive Director of One Standard of Justice (OSJ), a statewide civil rights advocacy organization. OSJ works with men and women arrested or convicted of sexual offenses and their families. I also identify as a member of a justice impacted family on both sides of the sexual offending issue.

Solitary confinement is used as a punishment for the specific purpose of breaking a prisoner. Nothing relieved the pressure of being locked in a cell 23 hours a day.

The only way you can survive in these cells is by adapting to the painfulness. The pressure of the cell changed most men. I’d see men who’d lived for years with high moral principles and values suddenly become destructive, chaotic.

— Albert Woodfox, The 2020 Harriet Beecher Stowe Prize Winner for his book Solitary.

Prisons should not create unhealthy people – mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually. Currently too many justice involved people become dependents of the state when returned to their communities rather than productive citizens not only because of the 500+ barriers to reintegration but because of their inhumane treatment while in the custody of the DOC. Issues like inadequate/inept health care including therapy, eating slop, going hungry, sleep deprivation, boredom, sleeping on 3” mattresses without a pillow until you can afford to buy one, cold in winter, hot in summer have a cumulative negative impact. Corrections currently is meant to subdue, suppress and oppress. Period. Our loved ones come out overweight, underweight, with a new set of survivor skills that don’t work out here, with high blood pressure or diabetes, or other illnesses that were either treated or mistreated. Instead of treating substance abuse or mental health issues, trauma becomes the common ground.

Then there’s the incarceration within the incarceration: solitary confinement used all too frequently for far too lengthy periods of time to “manage,” punish or break people.

Best are the very policies that maintain important connections to the community like kindness and respect, physical touch, being able to regularly speak with your family.

Fact: 95+% of people in prisons will return to their communities. All CT citizens should want these men and women to return in the best physical and emotional shape possible in the name of public safety. So today One Standard of Justice stands in solidarity with Stop Solitary Confinement and many advocates and concerned citizens in our unequivocal support of The Protect Act.

The CT Corrections system is broken.  It’s a rogue system that has been built entirely on punishment rather than rehabilitation. There is inadequate transparency and the all too frequent cover-up when things go wrong.  Just like transparency and accountability in policing this citizen and organization advocates for the same for our most vulnerable citizens inside CT prisons.

As a mother of a person once incarcerated I was afraid for my son daily – not that he’d be harmed by his fellows — but by the staff. I have met many mothers over the years. They share the same immeasurable pain and suffering because of their powerlessness to help their children.  The result is a needless trauma that reverberates from the prisons back into the community while also, unfortunately, obliterating trust of the corrections system from both inside and outside of prisons’ walls.

And so today we support the following in SB1059 for many reasons, including the following. We also list needed changes in DOC policies:

    1. End once and for all solitary confinement and isolation and in its place should be alternatives that are non-punitive, therapeutic, restorative;
    2. Eliminate the use of shackles and harmful restraints;
    3. Men and women must be outside of their cells a minimum of 8 hours a day;
    4. Oversight of Corrections with real accountability, a grievance process for the men and women inside and their families that promises justice not retaliation; implement the office of the Ombuds
    5. Free phone calls for all people inside prisons;
    6. Trauma treatment for our loved ones inside prisons AND corrections staff;
    7. Change the discriminatory policy within the DOC so that all people with any offense classifications, including a sexual offense conviction and or score, are able to go to level 2 prisons where the transitional programming is; and
    8. The language in the bill must consistently use person first language.

One Standard of Justice is most interested in replacing corrections with a more civilized model of what justice means and how to achieve it.  We believe in a restorative model, one which elevates dignity. It is time, long overdue, to bring compassion into Corrections. Incarceration is not real accountability, nor does it change behavior.

Prison in Norway is considered the gold standard for the healthy rehabilitation of people who are incarcerated,” said one US official after visiting Norway’s prisons. “Norway has gained an international reputation for effectively rehabilitating…while US officials face large jail populations and costs — fueled by the mentally ill. North Dakota Director of Corrections Leann Bertsch, said you have to see it to believe it.

Norway’s system focuses on restorative justice and rehabilitation. In other words, Norway’s Corrections model is creating healthy neighbors. Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world. We demand CT Corrections adopt restorative practices and principles – let’s restore and heal rather than kill and maim.

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

― Maya Angelou

It is time to do much better CT.

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