David Zheng, Senior Photographer

After 26 years of operation, Connecticut’s Northern Correctional Institution will shut down by July 1.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced the closure in a Feb. 8 press release. Northern Correctional Institution is the state’s only maximum-security prison located in Somers, a small town located 60 miles north of New Haven. It is designed to house incarcerated people whom the state categorizes as having a “serious inability to adjust to confinement — particularly those that pose a threat” to staff and incarcerated individuals. People who live at the prison include those sentenced for violent crimes and those detained on a high bond.

Some criminal justice reform advocates have long pointed to the prison’s use of solitary confinement, in-cell shackling and other forms of cruel practices as reasons for NCI to close. State officials cited a declining population of incarcerated individuals statewide and unjustifiable operating expenses at NCI as the principal reasons for the shutdown.

“The plummet in the overall incarcerated count certainly was the biggest factor here,” Connecticut Department of Correction External Division Director Karen Martucci told the News. “I mean, there’s 3,400 less people incarcerated today than we had on March 1 … When you look at Northern, the count there has not exceeded 100 in half a year.”

Connecticut’s incarcerated population is currently at a 32-year low, according to Lamont. With the high cost of maintaining prisons, state officials decided that the millions allocated to operating the prison’s facilities could be directed elsewhere. Its closure would save the state approximately $12.6 million per year, according to Lamont.

Criminal justice reform advocates have cited the prison’s conditions as a reason to close NCI on humanitarian grounds. American Civil Liberties Union Connecticut Executive Director David McGuire said in a Feb. 8 statement that the Northern Correctional Institution is a “monument” of systemic racism.

“Since its founding, systemic racism means that Northern has disproportionately harmed Black and Latinx people, and the question of whether and how the state closes Northern is ultimately an issue of racial justice,” McGuire wrote.

Advocates like McGuire view the institution as a reminder of the “tough-on-crime era” of the 1990s — which many scholars now mark as a significant point in the rise of United States mass incarceration. NCI first opened in 1995 and originally housed people on the state’s death row — a purpose which became obsolete when the state eliminated capital punishment in 2015.

For Stop Solitary CT activist Barbara Fair, the opposition is more personal. Fair detailed her experience viewing her son’s pretrial cell in the Northern Correctional Institution to the News.

“I’ve seen how tight the space was and I just broke down,” Fair said. “I can’t believe my son was in a physically tight space like this.”

The institution’s poor conditions for prison residents have been subject to criticism numerous times. Just four days prior to the announcement, Disability Rights Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Corrections for its use of solitary confinement and in-cell shackling. The lawsuit alleged that the state discriminated against prison residents with mental illness after failing to modify DOC procedures to improve access to programs for incarcerated individuals.

Northern Correctional Institution currently houses 65 incarcerated people.

Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu