Former NBA star works to end solitary confinement in prisons | New policies
By PAT EATON-ROBB, AP Sports Writer
Caron Butler can easily point out the lowest moment of his life – the days he spent as a teenager locked in solitary confinement inside a juvenile prison.
The former UConn and NBA star was scheduled to be at the Connecticut State Capitol on Monday to ask Gov. Ned Lamont to sign legislation that would strictly limit the use of solitary confinement and others forms of isolation of prisoners in prisons.
The bill, which requires almost all inmates to be allowed out of their cells for at least 6.5 hours and also limits the use of certain restraints, received final legislative approval early Sunday morning. It comes as the state is closing its maximum security institution, the Northern Correctional Facility, which was designed specifically to keep inmates in segregation.
Butler was open about his struggles as a youth in Racine, Wisconsin. He was a drug dealer and was arrested over a dozen times before serving over a year in prison for drug possession and firearms.
He was 15 when he fought in prison and was thrown into solitary confinement, spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in a small cell for two weeks. He had no contact with anyone – no books, no radio, no television. He said none of the violence or other trauma in his young life had prepared him for the desperation of this situation.
âBeing in those four walls and four corners does something to you,â Butler said, in an interview with The Associated Press. âMentally and spiritually it takes a lot out. It dehumanizes you.
Butler said he believed he survived on a strong family support system. He discovered basketball in prison. He changed his life when he got out to the point where Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun saw something in him and offered him a scholarship.
Butler became the Big East’s Player of the Year in 2002 and spent 14 seasons in the NBA, where he is now an assistant coach in Miami.
But Butler, who is also an administrator at the Vera Institute for Justice, said he will never forget the torture he endured in prison and hopes Connecticut’s legislation sets an example for other states.
âNow I look back and I want to tell my young self to keep hope,â he said. âThere are people who care. In the future, there will be elected officials who will care about this community in real time. There is going to be change on the horizon. They will find ways to rehabilitate that never dehumanize people. “
Opponents of the bill say it will take away a tool from guards that helps maintain discipline in prisons. But his supporters say he understands exceptions, such as allowing officers to isolate a prisoner when necessary to protect someone’s life. But now there will be a review process to make sure the isolation ends.
Barbara Fair, the lead organizer of the Stop Solitary CT campaign, which is part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said that while thousands of people have horror stories about living in isolation, it is important that someone as famous as Butler comes forward.
âHe’s someone that people can connect with,â she said. âThis is the biggest problem with our prison systems, is that often times people find it difficult to connect with the humanity of incarcerated people. “
Butler is not the first former UConn star to advocate for criminal justice reform.
Former UConn female star Maya Moore left the WNBA to lead what has become a successful fight to overturn the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Irons, a man who later became her husband. She also launched a social action campaign called Win With Justice, designed to draw attention to the power wielded by prosecutors and their obligation to use it responsibly.
Butler said it was no coincidence that she and others, like former UConn player Renee Montgomery, were active in promoting social justice reform.
âTwo Hall of Fame coaches (Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma) taught us that when you’re passionate about something, you have to find a way to create a wave, make it bigger and create a current,â he said. Butler said. “Just like the momentum changes in a basketball game, you have to impose your will on a situation.”
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