Despite the recent passage of the Protecting ActUnfortunately, the Department of Corrections has still not enforced a trauma-informed and anti-violence law, although it would create a safer prison environment for both staff and inmates, particularly survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
We do not view imprisoned people as a group of survivors. Many people are addicted to racist stereotypes, fueled by decades of public policy, that people in prison are violent, dangerous, out of whack and absolutely deserve the inhumane conditions we call prison.
As someone who works to create truly safer communities, free from all forms of violence, it is critical to see incarcerated people as a deeply marginalized population that needs structural support to heal, structural support that will Protect Act promises.
In the United States, One in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. That’s a frightening number.
The statistics are so much worse for incarcerated populations. In localized studies across the country, more than 80% of girls in juvenile court systems are survivors of sexual violence; A staggering 90% of women in New York City prisons are victims of abuse. Nationwide, 45% of girls affected by the system and 24% of boys affected by the system experience five or more negative childhood experiences.
Prisons are not mental health centers; They are not intended to identify and treat the underlying trauma of the people they incarcerate. In reality, these systems and their degrading security practices, such as invasive strip searches, are so punitive and dangerous that they are likely to re-trigger and exacerbate the existing traumas of those incarcerated.
By definition, prison environments control every aspect of incarcerated people’s lives, from their clothing to their meals to their current whereabouts. Of course, this is done under the guise of maintaining security. But isn’t that what abusers do to control and isolate victims? For every survivor who enters the criminal justice system, the system itself becomes the next abuser.
We need to start understanding systemic people as high-risk survivors. Many of the DOC’s security measures do the opposite of protection; They inflict trauma on an already traumatized population and create an increasingly dangerous prison environment.
Solitary confinement is one of those practices that is said to maintain security. Isolation, by whatever name, traumatizes people, especially survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and creates urgent and serious health problems such as paranoia, delirium, cognitive difficulties, panic disorders, and more. prison policy reports, “Although people in solitary confinement make up only 6% to 8% of all prison inmates, they account for (a conservative estimate) about half of those who die by suicide.” Solitary confinement creates and exacerbates mental health problems and results in an unsafe prison environment for both staff and inmates.
This is not a problem since we can hide in prison 95% of those arrested are released. They are our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones. This is a public health issue that affects us all.
That year, the Protect Act, SB 459, was up for a vote again, this time with The support of DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros. With its passage, lawmakers took the first steps to show they care about making Connecticut a safer, healthier place to live.
If the Connecticut DOC delivers on the promises of the Protect Act, Connecticut will establish an independent ombudsman and law enforcement advisory committee that will include ex-prisoners, medical, mental health and legal experts. This collaboration will guide the DOC in creating a more humane and trauma-informed prison environment that will reduce the burden and responsibility of prison staff.
The Advisory Committee will be able to integrate nonprofit service providers into the prison system to meet the many complicated needs of inmates, be it education, victim services, parenting classes and more. this will Help are breaking up much of the isolation that comes with incarceration and could greatly benefit incarcerated survivors as relationships with loved ones are an integral part of the healing process.
The Corrections Ombudsmen would also establish a confidential feedback system. This can become one of the many avenues for incarcerated survivors to raise their concerns about safety, reporting, medical care, and victim services. Certainly, the Ombuds and Corrections Advisory Committee will assist CT DOC in better complying with its federal regulations Prison Rape Elimination Act mandates.
The Protect Act will require more transparency from the DOC, including the release of data on use of force, access to education, pro-social programs, internal grievance system and more. At the moment, we know little about the lives of Connecticut inmates. The Protect Act would open the door to collecting data on the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence survivors among Connecticut inmates before and during incarceration, barriers to reporting and survivor access to services such as hotline and counseling, and safety concerns from incarcerated survivors her abuser and more. This will help service providers and DOC better understand inmate health concerns and actually maintain security.
Of course, the Protect Act limits the use of solitary confinement. This means Connecticut would be less likely to aggravate the existing trauma of its inmates (and therefore not raise urgent health concerns) by reducing the time one can spend in isolation. This is also incredibly important for incarcerated survivors. My work with advocates of sexual violence in Connecticut has made it clear that many incarcerated survivors are isolated because they report sexual violence in prison. In theory, this is to protect the survivor. Indeed, this discourages reporting, penalizes people brave enough to come forward, and adds to the trauma on top of their sexual victimization.
The confines of isolation will end this practice no matter how well intentioned. With the help of the Advisory Committee, CT DOC will be able to create trauma-informed pathways to protect incarcerated survivors.
CT DOC must implement every aspect of the Protect Act and build deeper and more accountable relationships with communities across Connecticut to support incarcerated survivors. There is much work to be done when it comes to the health and humanity of Connecticut inmates, whether it is conducting strip searches, the spread of diseases like monkeypox or Covid-19, or the need for services for survivors.
Building a safer Connecticut means supporting and protecting ALL survivors, including those incarcerated.
Trumbull’s Nanee Sajeev is an Anti-Violence Advocate and a member of the Connecticut Mirror’s Community Editorial Board.