May is Mental Health Awareness Month. When people think about mental health, they may picture therapists helping clients, counselors advising students, or teachers promoting resiliency and kindness. However, our state lawmakers have an important role to play in promoting mental health, as well. In addition to passing proactive mental health support, Connecticut lawmakers should seek to eliminate measures that perpetuate and exacerbate mental illness. One of these measures is the practice of solitary confinement and extreme isolation within the Department of Correction.
Senate Bill 1059, known as the PROTECT Act, would severely curtail the use of solitary confinement. Incarcerated people in every prison across Connecticut would receive eight hours of out of cell time a day. They would not be confined to their cell for more than 72 consecutive hours or for more than 72 total hours and only under very specific circumstances. Though solitary confinement and mental health may seem unrelated, the reality is that the DOC’s rampant use of solitary confinement is creating a mental health crisis within the state. People who enter the system are not being rehabilitated.