Archives for March 2013

EVENTS: Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement to Meet in NYC on March 27

The newly formed Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement will meet on Wednesday, March 27, from 6:30-8:00 pm, at the Correctional Association of New York, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue) between 124th and 125th Streets, Suite 200 (2nd floor). For more information contact

This working meeting, which will focus on legislative work, is open to all. Formerly incarcerated persons and family members of the currently incarcerated are especially encouraged to attend, as are advocates, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York City and New York State.

NEWS: New York Groups Unite in Call for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement in Prisons and Jails

The following press release served as the official announcement of the formation of CAIC. Click here for a copy of the press release to print and email: NYCAIC Press Release 3-12-13 pdf

NEW YORK — Dozens of organizations joined together today to challenge the torturous abuse of solitary confinement in prisons and jails across New York, urging Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York legislature, and state and city corrections officials to “Think Outside the Box.” The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) is a state-wide campaign of organizations and concerned community members, including formerly incarcerated persons and family members of loved ones in isolated confinement. CAIC is engaged in public education and community outreach in order to organize support for an end to solitary confinement.

CAIC was formed in response to New York’s practice of using isolated confinement far too broadly, routinely, and for far too long a period of time. In fact, New York holds people in isolated confinement at rates significantly above the national average. On any given day, there are nearly 4,500 people, disproportionately people of color, in New York State prisons who are in special housing units (SHU) and thousands more subjected to keeplock, two forms of isolated confinement. There are also around 1,000 people in New York City jails in isolation.

All of these individuals are confined in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day without meaningful human contact, programming, or therapy. People are often subjected to these conditions for months, years, and decades at a time. Whether called the Box, the Bing, the SHU, solitary, or isolation, such inhumane conditions often cause deep and permanent psychological, physical, and social harm both for persons who are mentally stable and for people with pre-existing mental health needs or disabilities.

[Read more…]

VOICES: A Sentence Worse Than Death

By William Blake. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

elmiraThe following essay is by William Blake, who has been held in solitary confinement in the New York State prison system for close to 26 years. Currently he is in administrative segregation at Elmira Correctional Facility, a maximum security facility located in south central New York State. In 1987, Blake, then 23 and in county court on a drug charge, murdered one deputy and wounded another in a failed escape attempt. Sentenced to 77 years to life, Blake has no chance of ever leaving prison alive, and almost no chance of ever leaving solitary—-a fate he considers  “a sentence worse than death.”

This powerful essay earned Blake an Honorable Mention in the Yale Law Journal’s Prison Law Writing Contest. Chosen from more than 1,500 entries, it will be published in the Journal this spring. He describes here in painstaking detail his excruciating experiences over the last quarter-century. “I’ve read of the studies done regarding the effects of long-term isolation in solitary confinement on inmates, seen how researchers say it can ruin a man’s mind, and I’ve watched with my own eyes the slow descent of sane men into madness—sometimes not so slow,” Blake writes. “What I’ve never seen the experts write about, though, is what year after year of abject isolation can do to that immaterial part in our middle where hopes survive or die and the spirit resides.” That is what Blake himself seeks to convey in his essay. —Lisa Dawson

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

“You deserve an eternity in hell,” Onondaga County Supreme Court judge Kevin Mulroy told me from his bench as I stood before him for sentencing on July 10, 1987. Apparently he had the idea that God was not the only one justified to make such judgment calls.

Judge Mulroy wanted to “pump six buck’s worth of electricity into [my] body,” he also said, though I suggest that it wouldn’t have taken six cent’s worth to get me good and dead. He must have wanted to reduce me and The Chair to a pile of ashes. My “friend” Governor Mario Cuomo wouldn’t allow him to do that, though, the judge went on, bemoaning New York State’s lack of a death statute due to the then-Governor’s repeated vetoes of death penalty bills that had been approved by the state legislature. Governor Cuomo’s publicly expressed dudgeon over being called a friend of mine by Judge Mulroy was understandable, given the crimes that I had just been convicted of committing. I didn’t care much for him either, truth be told. He built too many new prisons in my opinion, and cut academic and vocational programs in the prisons already standing.

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NEWS: NYCLU Seeks Class-Action Status in Challenge to Use of Solitary Confinement in NY Prisons

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

Tonja Fenton and family

Tonja Fenton and family

March 6, 2013 — In a court filing today, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster took steps to obtain class-action status in a federal lawsuit challenging New York prison officials’ policies and practices that result in the arbitrary, inhumane and unconstitutional use of solitary confinement in state prisons.

The filing is an amended class-action complaint in Peoples v. Fischer, a lawsuit the NYCLU filed on behalf of Leroy Peoples, who spent 780 days confined in extreme isolation as punishment for non-violent misbehavior that involved no threat to the safety or security of others. Today’s filing seeks to extend the scope of the lawsuit to include all individuals incarcerated in state prisons similarly affected by Department of Corrections and Community Supervision policies and practices permitting the arbitrary and unnecessary use of solitary confinement.

“Solitary confinement and extreme isolation are uniquely cruel and debilitating punishments that are being routinely imposed on people for a range of non-violent disciplinary infractions,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “Prison officials’ arbitrary and inhumane use of extreme isolation for such extraordinarily long amounts of time inflicts excruciating suffering on thousands of individuals each year and makes our prisons and communities less safe. If they refuse to end this practice, we are confident that the courts will require them to do so.”

[Read more…]

NEWS: New York State Corrections Commissioner Announces Retirement

fischer07bioThe Albany-based Capitol Confidential reported yesterday that Brian Fischer, commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, will retire at the end of next month. The report continues:

A Brooklyn native who has worked as a parole officer and ran Sing Sing prison, Fischer has held cabinet posts since his 2007 appointment by Eliot Spitzer. He supervised the merger of the Department of Correctional Services with the Division of Parole in 2011.

“Over the years I have seen many changes, including the ironic fact that when I came to the Department the Division of Parole was part of the agency, then it wasn’t, and now it is,” Fischer wrote in a memorandum to staff that was distributed Monday. “Together we have accomplished much, and I know that good things will continue to develop.”

No immediate word from Cuomo aides on who might be named to succeed Fischer.

Brian Fischer’s tenure as commissioner has seen a rising resistance to the widespread use of isolated confinement in New York’s state prisons. According to an article that ran last year in The Nation: “At a forum in January held by the New York State Bar Association…Fischer insisted that some segregation was necessary, but ‘I’ll be the first to admit—we overuse it.’ Even modest reductions, he said, would require that they ‘change the culture’ of corrections, including the stance of the correctional officers union. And, he added, ‘we can’t make changes without funding, without the legislature and the public.’”

EVENTS: Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement to Meet on March 7 in NYC

solitary cellThe newly formed Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement will meet on Thursday, March 7, 6:30-8:00 pm, in the library at the New York Civil Liberties Union, 125 Broad St, New York, NY. To RSVP (required for building security) or obtain call-in information, contact Nate Vogel at

This key organizing meeting is open to all who wish to get involved in the work of CAIC. Formerly incarcerated persons and family members of the currently incarcerated are especially encouraged to attend, as are advocates, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York City and New York State.


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