Archives for February 2013

VOICES: Disciplined Into Madness and Death

By Sara Rodrigues. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

bedford hillsThe following essay comes from Sara Rodrigues, formerly a prisoner at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women in Westchester, New York, and now further upstate at Albion. When Sara was sent to prison at the age of 16, she found her friend D there as well. Both Sara and D had life-long struggles with mental health, and while in prison, spent long periods of time in solitary confinement (both Keeplock, which is lockdown in one’s own cell, and SHU, which is the Special Housing Unit).

Sara writes about the difficulty D faced when she was finally released and put on parole, with no transitional assistance to move from prison to the free world. She ultimately ended up back in prison and committed suicide, shortly after giving birth to a baby girl. Sara Rodrigues wrote this piece in the hope of spreading awareness of her situation and the experience of many people around her. She writes, “Too many inmates in New York State under the age of 25 are killing themselves in prisons because they are literally being thrown away like garbage by the court systems.”

Thanks to Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center for forwarding this essay to Solitary Watch. — Rachel M. Cohen, Solitary Watch

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

This essay is dedicated to D and all those who have given their minds and/or lives trying to pay their debt to society and to those who will forever be haunted and scarred from our justice system. Once self-worth and hope dies within our souls, what is left behind is a shell of life that can see no future, no redemption and no chance for a normal life. It is then that our minds realize how truly unwanted we are and how on a daily basis we are reminded that society has no use for us. Day by day life becomes very dark, some lose their minds, some will never be the same, and some just give in and take their own lives.

[Read more…]

NEWS: New York Prisons: A Human Rights Crisis in Our Own Backyard

By Elena Ladriscina, Legal Fellow, NYCLU. Reprinted from the ACLU Blog of Rights.

upstatenycluNew York has allowed a human rights crisis to fester in its prisons. Each day, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision subjects nearly 4,500 prisoners to solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation in prisons around the state. Locked down for 22 to 24 hours a day, for months or even years, without meaningful human interaction or programming, these individuals experience severe pain and suffering. Some even contemplate suicide. The majority of individuals subjected to these conditions are black. Juveniles, the elderly and people with physical disabilities, cognitive impairments and mental illness are subjected to this nightmarish regime. Not the slightest effort is made toward rehabilitation: Nearly 2,000 prisoners each year are released straight from extreme isolation to the streets.

International human rights law prohibits these policies and practices. On Tuesday, more than 30 human rights, civil rights, faith-based and mental health organizations sent a letter to Juan E. Méndez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, requesting that he investigate the New York State solitary confinement system and take all necessary steps to end the mistreatment of prisoners and bring New York in line with international human rights law and standards.

[Read more…]

NEWS: “Sick and in Solitary” on Rikers Island

By Maura R. O’Connor. Excerpted from The New York World.

rikers1Last summer, a 25-year-old robbery suspect at Rikers Island took a ball of concentrated soap meant to clean his jail cell and swallowed it. Jason Echeverria had been held for two months inside the Department of Correction’s Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates, where the confined typically spend 23 hours a day on lockdown. By swallowing the soap, Echeverria hoped to spring himself from his confinement; instead, for 20 minutes a corrections supervisor ignored his condition as he became violently sick and eventually died from the poisoning. The city’s medical examiner has found that the lack of immediate medical treatment constituted a homicide.

While Echeverria was being held in punitive segregation, New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro was assuring the city’s Board of Correction, which monitors her agency, that a long-awaited blueprint for dealing with the growing ranks of mentally ill at Rikers was nearing completion.

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NEWS: State Bar Association Calls on New York to “Profoundly Restrict” Its Use of Solitary Confinement

By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

upstate 1The New York State Bar Association last month passed a resolution calling for a dramatic transformation and curtailment of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement it its state prisons and city jails. The strongly worded resolution, written by NYSBA’s Civil Rights Committee, cites “the damage caused by prolonged solitary confinement and the ability to ensure prison and public safety without resorting to its use.”It urges the New York State legislature to hold hearings on solitary confinement, and on Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the state and city departments of corrections to undertake sweeping changes in their prison practices.

After laying out the problem, the document presents the following resolution:

RESOLVED, that the New York State Bar Association calls upon the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and New York City Department of Correction (DOC) to profoundly restrict the use of long-term solitary confinement, by adopting clear and objective standards to ensure that prisoners are separated from the general prison population only in very limited and very legitimate circumstances and only for the briefest period and under the least restrictive conditions practicable.

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NEWS: Human Rights, Mental Health and Faith-Based Organizations ask U.N. to Investigate Solitary Confinement in New York Prisons

Press release. Reprinted from the New York Civil Liberties Union site.

UNFebruary 5, 2013 — The New York Civil Liberties Union – joined by more than three dozen representatives from human rights, civil rights, mental health and faith-based organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture – today submitted a letter to the United Nations requesting an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in New York State prisons.

The letter – addressed to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez – alleges that New York’s use of extreme isolation and deprivation is inhumane, unsafe, arbitrary and implicates fundamental human rights protections, including “the right to be protected from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” and “the right to be free from discrimination.”

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NEWS: NYCLU Lawsuit Challenges New York State’s Use of Solitary Confinement

Press release. Reprinted from the New York Civil Liberties Union site.

barsDecember 6, 2012 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit challenging New York prison official’s system-wide policies and practices governing solitary confinement that are responsible for the arbitrary and unjustified use of extreme isolation on thousands of individuals incarcerated in New York’s prisons every year.

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiff, Leroy Peoples, spent 780 days locked in tiny, barren cell the size of an elevator with another prisoner for 24 hours a day as punishment for misbehavior that involved no violence and no threat to the safety or security of others.

“New York’s prison authorities permit the use extreme isolation – one of the harshest punishments one human can impose on another – as a disciplinary tool of first resort for violating almost any prison rule, no matter how minor,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “This cruel and arbitrary punishment endangers prisoners and corrections officials alike, and it decreases safety in our prisons and communities.”

[Read more…]


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