Connecticut to close maximum-security Northern prison
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut will be closing its highest security prison that was once home to the state’s death row by July 1, mostly because of the continuing drop in the statewide inmate population, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.
Lamont and Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros, however, did not mention past and current complaints about conditions at the prison, Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.
A lawsuit filed last week by a disability rights group alleged Northern inmates were being physically and psychologically abused at the maximum-security prison through the use of prolonged isolation and in-cell shackling. The Correction Department did not address those allegations, as officials said they do not comment on pending litigation.
And last year, a United Nations human rights expert criticized how Connecticut treats its prison inmates, saying the prolonged use of isolation, in-cell restrains and “needlessly intrusive” strip searches may amount to torture.
Instead, Lamont said the state’s prison population has decreased substantially over the past 10 months, including at Northern where 65 inmates are currently housed, down from 510 in 2003. He said closing the prison will save that state nearly $13 million a year in operating costs.
Connecticut prisons currently house about 9,100 inmates, the lowest number since 1989. State prisons saw their peak population at nearly 20,000 in 2008. The coronavirus pandemic, criminal justice reforms and lower crime rates have played roles in the declining prison population.
There will be no layoffs of the 175 Northern staff, who will be relocated to other prisons in a move that will cut down overtime costs, officials said.
“New prison admissions in Connecticut have declined significantly over the last decade, and the incarcerated population is currently at a 32-year low,” Lamont said in a statement. “Spending millions of dollars annually to operate facilities for a population that continues to get smaller and smaller is not a good use of resources.”
Messages seeking comment about the prisoner complaints at Northern Correctional and whether they played some role in the closing were left with spokespeople for the governor and Department of Correction.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said it welcomed the announced closure of Northern Correctional.
“Northern is a monument to cruelty and systemic racism,” David McGuire, executive director of the state ACLU chapter, said in a statement. “In sum, it is a symbol of everything that is wrong with incarceration.”
McGuire said Northern Correctional has housed Black and Hispanic inmates at disproportionate rates compared with white prisoners and has been an example of systemic racism. He said the ACLU will continue monitoring conditions at the prison until it closes.
Quiros, the Department of Correction commissioner, told state lawmakers two weeks ago that he planned to close two state prisons by July 1, but did not say which ones at the time.
Labor unions representing correctional officers expressed concerns about any closures, saying it would undermine safety and security and create more difficult conditions for inmates and staff.
Northern Correctional opened in 1995 and the state’s death row was moved there the same year. The state abolished its death penalty in 2015 after having executed only one person — serial killer Michael Ross in 2005 — since 1960.