The Northern Correctional Institution’s use of solitary confinement and cell restraints discriminates against prisoners with mental illness, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday seeking to end these practices.
The federal lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Connecticut against the State Department of Correction, Acting Commissioner Angel Quiros and Northern Warden Roger Bowles alleges the state discriminates against prisoners with mental illness by not changing DOC procedures to allow inmates with mental illness Diseases can access programs, services, and opportunities that other inmates have.
The lawsuit seeks a court order banning the admission of people with mental illnesses to the north and the DOC’s freezing of solitary confinement and shackling of people with mental illnesses held at Supermax Somers.
And it shows the experiences of three inmates who spent years in the north in conditions that Plantiff lawyers describe as “terrible.”
One of the inmates named in the lawsuit is Kyle Lamar Paschal-Barros, a 26-year-old who suffers from a range of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Sometimes when the isolation proves overwhelming, or when Paschal-Barros encounters situations over which he has little control, he expresses his distress by covering the four-inch-wide window in his cell in Northern, the lawsuit says .
Prison officials have responded by shackling Barros more than 10 times, one of which was rated “non-fatal” by correctional staff after a suicide attempt.
Each time he was handcuffed, Barros was stripped of his clothes except for a safety gown that was locked and handcuffed in what he called a “cold cement doghouse”. He had to put his food on the floor on waxed paper and eat like an animal. During delivery, he sometimes experienced flashbacks, a traumatic memory that played in his head as the staff played continuous chimes over the intercom in the cell where he was handcuffed. His legs and wrists were tied with a tether and another chain attached around his waist.
“There has been a longstanding practice by the DOC of placing really dire conditions on prisoners going to Northern,” said Deborah Dorffman, chief executive officer of Disability Rights Connecticut (DRCT), the plaintiff in the case. “And these horrific practices include routinely, often indefinitely, submitting these individuals to solitary confinement, sometimes for days, and keeping them in cells and restricting their movement, causing them physical and mental distress, harm and humiliation.”
DRCT is represented by the Connecticut ACLU, Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Morrison & Foerster LLP.
“Northern is notoriously cruel, punitive, and unhealthy for everyone. But this suit is a disability rights case, ”said Elana Bildner, a Connecticut ACLU attorney. “People with mental illness go north, they are put into this long isolation. You will be tied up in this cell. Nobody should have to endure that. But the DRCT constituency is believed to be particularly damaged by these practices. “
In his confirmation hearing last week, Quiros pledged to reform the DOC’s “restrictive status program” to reduce unnecessary restrictions while providing more rehabilitation programs on an issue that continues to protect our employees and the incarcerated population in the post-pandemic is over.
Northern opened in 1995 when the state’s prison population was much larger and officials were having a hard time dealing with behavioral violations throughout the prison system. Lawyers have been demanding the closure for years. Its population decline and symbolic status as a relic of a bygone era of crime make it a leading candidate for closure as Quiros decides which correctional facilities to close as the incarcerated population across the state hit historic lows during the pandemic.
In a previous interview, Quiros, who served as a guard at Northern between 2009 and 2011, said the prison “served its purpose. With the ongoing criminal justice reform going on, the Agency needs to look at what additional changes we need to make to the programs housed in Northern, and then we will continue to keep staff and perpetrators safe in their heads. “
The lawsuit takes note of Northern’s disorienting and isolating architecture. In an interview for a documentary about Northern, prison architect John Kessler said the layout – the rows of barbed wire outside, the gray interior that gives the feeling of ancestry – was designed at the request of state officials
“There is nothing soft. It’s hard and that’s what they wanted, ”he said.
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