Led by Stop Solitary CT, Connecticut's legislature is once again considering the PROTECT Act, a bill that would take steps to end solitary confinement and to create external oversight of Connecticut's Department of Correction. On March 25, 2022, Smart Justice leader Tracie Bernardi testified in support of the bill. Here is her testimony:
Hello Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, and ranking members Senator Kissel, Representative Fishbein, and all the distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee.
My name is Tracie Bernardi, I am a Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice campaign, and I am here to testify in support of SB 459, the 2022 version of the PROTECT Act. I live in Waterbury and I am the stepmom to four amazing kids. I've worked as a warm-line operator, a Recovery Support Specialist, and now for one of the largest community reentry organizations in the state. And I am a person who was incarcerated for 23 years, from 1995 to 2015, beginning when I was 19-years-old. I spent 7 ½ of those years in solitary confinement. I believe I am an expert in the harm that SEG, Restrictive Housing, Administrative Segregation, whatever term you want to use, does to a person. It is cruel and unusual punishment and we need to ensure that people in Connecticut’s prisons and jails are not being abused, reabused, traumatized, and retraumatized.
The most abuse happens in the darkest of places. Solitary confinement drives the human spirit to despair. Allowing prisons a separate, private place to isolate and punish people only promotes abuse within the correctional system. I know it because I entered solitary at the age of 26 and did not see the light of day until I was 32-years-old. I spent seven years without human contact. I nearly went crazy. I even hung myself because that’s how bad it got. Would you want that to be your daughter, your brother, your father?
I particularly want to highlight that Section 1 of this bill would create the Commission for Correctional Oversight, and how it would include people who are and have been incarcerated. The reason that this bill, and last year’s bill, and the work that came before that, happened is because of the voices of people with direct experience, people who have been harmed and scarred by solitary confinement, people like me. They are the ones that need to be a part of this commission so that their voices can be lifted and heard, not buried and ignored.
I testified in support of a version of this bill last year. The bill was passed by this committee, passed by the Senate, and passed by the House. Governor Lamont vetoed it, but I think you all have seen the reaction from people around the state to that veto. It was unacceptable, and that’s why we’re back here again demanding that SB 459 be passed and signed into law. Once people learn about how solitary confinement is used in Connecticut, they cannot pretend it doesn’t exist.
I urge this committee to pass SB 459 and demand that the Governor do his job and sign it into law.
Thank you for listening to my testimony. I am happy to address any questions you may have.