Disability Rights Connecticut (DRCT), represented by the ACLU of Connecticut, Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Morrison & Foerster, sued the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) for its continuing physical and psychological abuse of people with mental illness incarcerated in DOC prisons and jails, including at Northern Correctional Institution and elsewhere.
“Northern staff chained me up more than 50 times, often with the chain so short I had to bend or crouch the whole time. Now, just the sight of handcuffs can give me debilitating anxiety. Those years at Northern made me feel like I’d lost my humanity. I don’t want anyone else to have to experience what I’ve been through.” - Tyrone Spence
The lawsuit, filed in federal court against the DOC, Acting DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros, and Northern Correctional Institution Warden Roger Bowles, alleges that the DOC’s use of prolonged isolation and in-cell shackling of people with mental illness who are incarcerated in the DOC constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and disability discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The lawsuit details the horrors of prolonged isolation and in-cell shackling on people with mental illness incarcerated in the DOC. The DOC isolates people with mental illness, among others, in small concrete cells for 22 to 24 hours per day where they “live in a near total social and sensory deprivation.” Their only daylight comes through a narrow slit at the back of their cells, and “meaningful social interaction is non-existent.” The DOC also subjects people with mental illness, among others, to in-cell shackling where their hands and legs are cuffed and then tethered together for 24 hours or even days at a time — even for minor disciplinary actions which are often manifestations of their mental illness. The DOC often leaves shackled people with mental illness in freezing, unsanitary “strip” cells that are sometimes covered with urine and feces. Many have been physically scarred from the DOC repeatedly in-cell shackling them.
One of the DOC facilities, Northern Correctional Institution, opened in 1995 and for years has been the subject of lawsuits and sustained advocacy opposition. In 2020, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture condemned the use of solitary confinement as likely tantamount to torture. Since its founding, Northern has disproportionately incarcerated Black and Latinx people, and more than 84 percent of people incarcerated at Northern today are Black or Latinx.
People who are incarcerated are people with lives, health, and dignity that matter. The state’s inhumane treatment of people with mental illness violates the law and shocks the conscience. It is cruel, discriminatory, and unconstitutional, and it must end.