Testimony on Raised Bill 1109: AAC Solitary Confinement

Judiciary Committee

March 29, 2019

Submitted By: Stephen Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW

The National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter supports Bill 1109 as it deals with the mental health of inmates and needs of employees who work with the prison population.

As stated in Social Work Speaks, Social Work in the Criminal Justice System, 2017, “Based on recent data, over the course of a year nearly one in five U.S. prisoners spend time in solitary confinement, which is approximately 400,000 people each year. The most pressing concern about the use of isolation in jails and prisons is the mental health implications. It is irrefutable that segregation, especially over the long term, can result in serious, potentially permanent mental health dysfunctions, including anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thought, paranoia, and psychosis.”

Correctional facilities have become the de facto institution for persons with severe mental health illnesses. Also due to episodic mental health crises, persons with serious mental health illnesses tend to be arrested frequently for behaviorally related infractions and enter a revolving door of being in and out of jail. These individuals are in need of mental health services, not repeated incarceration. In fact, incarceration may only worsen the mental health status of such individuals. Prolonged incarceration that includes solitary confinement has been found to cause a form of PTSD known as postincarceration syndrome. This will heighten the already underlying mental health problems of the individual.

Significant increase in mental health services is needed in our state’s correctional facilities. Employment of additional clinical social workers and other mental health providers who are trained in the treatment of PTSD and severe mental illness, is a much better approach then use of restricted housing and solitary confinement.

Bill 1109 calls for the training of correctional facilities employees on recognizing mental health symptoms, the potential risks and side effects of psychiatric medications, de-escalation techniques for managing inmates with mental illness, consequences of untreated mental health and the long-term psychological effects of being on administrative segregation status. The bill also calls for assistance to correctional facility employees, to include employee assistance programs, peer support, and stress management. All of these supports are “within available appropriations”, which we fear means they will not come to fruition, unless designated dollars are allocated to the Department of Correction. Both the treatment of mental health of incarcerated persons and the well-being of DOC employees who work directly with inmates is concurrently needed, along with the reduction and elimination of solitary confinement. We urge the Judiciary Committee to mandate such supports systems be included in Bill 1109.

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