Getting information on what goes on inside of Connecticut's prisons is not easy. It often comes from families of those in prison calling reporters or the inmates themselves writing letters.
NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck talks to Kelan Lyons, a justice reporter from the CT Mirror who has been covering the state's prisons extensively. He is discussing a recent public hearing where letters from inmates were read out loud.
Mike Hydeck: "So recently, inmates presented their stories to the Judiciary Committee regarding solitary confinement, many with claims of abuse. When you were to see and hear these stories, how do you think lawmakers reacted to that?"
Kelan Lyons: "Well, the incarcerated submitted written testimony. So it wasn't as though they were they were testifying via video, but I certainly think it has an impact in advancing the dialogue on the subject. I mean, this is a group of people who rarely are able to have their voices directly heard by those in power. And so it really speaks to how they wanted to be taken seriously by submitting so many letters. I think they did last year, they did something similar where they, I think it was about nine people who submitted written testimony from prisons or jails. And this year was 27. So it appears there was at least a little bit more of an effort to submit more letters this year, and to make sure that those voices were heard."
Mike Hydeck: "And I read some of the letters printed in the [CT] Mirror and they were gripping to say the least. So a bill, as you know, limiting the use of solitary confinement actually made it through the legislature last year, but the governor vetoed it. Do you think this most recent bill has a better chance in your estimation?"
Kelan Lyons: "I do. I do. The governor vetoed the last bill. It was sort of a soft veto of sorts in that he agreed, he said he agreed with the principles of the bill, but he didn't think it was good for public safety. So by vetoing that bill, he issued an executive order in its place, and that executive order made an attempt to cut back on the use of solitary confinement in the state's prisons and jails. This year, the Department of Correction or Commissioner Angel Quiros has reached an agreement with Stop Solitary Connecticut, a major advocacy group that's been pushing for this for years, to limit the use of solitary confinement. And with that agreement, the administration, the Lamont administration has told me that they are supportive of the work that the commissioner is doing, and that they could support a bill if it makes it through the legislature without serious significant changes depending on how the bill changes as it moves through."
Mike Hydeck: "Earlier in the show, we interviewed a woman from Stop Solitary CT. She was concerned about oversight. She said that's very necessary moving forward. Is oversight written into this legislation?"
Kelan Lyons: "It is and that's one of the biggest pieces of the legislation. And it appears to me to be one of the bigger pieces of concessions that were made in an agreement to get this bill across the finish line. I have not seen the substitute language for the bill that got out of committee. But I have heard that it is essentially codifying many of the elements of the governor's executive order while also including some opportunities for oversight. There's an Office of Ombudsman that would that would be opened, system support staff for that external watchdog. And there would also be a civilian oversight board, which is sort of like a like a consulting of sorts for the ombuds that they can hear from concerned members of the community as they're doing their work."