NEWS & EVENTS: Board of Correction to Vote on Solitary Reform in New York City Jails

The following is an open letter from the NYC Jails Action Coalition regarding the upcoming vote by the New York City Board of Correction, the body that oversees city jails, on a proposal from JAC that would bring significant reform to solitary confinement practices. Click here for an earlier story on this subject.

Dear Supporters:

Thank you again for urging the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) to adopt rules regarding the use of solitary confinement in the NYC jails. The BOC discussed the Jails Action Coalition (JAC) petition at their May 13, 2013 meeting but delayed making a decision until a specially scheduled meeting now set for June 3, 2013.

On June 3, the BOC will decide between the following:  1) commence rule-making (including consideration of the proposal provided by JAC and any alternatives); 2) reject the JAC petition as premature and appoint a committee to study the issue of use of solitary confinement in the jails; or 3) reject the petition and take no further action.

Please urge the BOC to commence rule-making:

►Send a letter expressing your support for rule-making. (See the attached model letter, which can be sent directly to the Board and/or returned to us for delivery to the Board Members.)

►Attend the BOC meeting at 9 a.m. on June 3.

► Join JAC’s rally before the meeting at 8:15 a.m. at 1 Centre Street.  (See below for all the details.)

What Rule-making Involves:

Rule-making requires public hearings and is itself time consuming.  Any needed study of the issue can occur during the rule-making process.  The BOC has hired Drs. James Gilligan and Bandy Lee who are both psychiatrists and experts on mental health treatment in prison, violence and violence prevention.  Drs. Gilligan and Lee are currently touring and studying the New York City jails – their availability can enhance the outcomes of the rule-making process through their expertise.  A further delay for study disregards the length of the process, the need for rational and humane regulations, the urgent need for reform, and the expert resources at hand.

Why We Can’t Wait: Standards which tailor punitive segregation to legitimate security objectives are necessary in order to maintain the New York City jails humanely, safely and professionally.

  • People in punitive segregation endure twenty-two to twenty-three hours of lonely idleness in a small cell that admits little or no natural light in housing areas that smell of body odor and human waste.
  • Excessive penalties to punitive segregation are imposed that do not take the damaging effects of isolation into account and have no relationship to valid security interests.
  • These penalties and conditions are imposed regardless of physical or mental disability and adolescent and other young persons are held in these punishing and inhumane conditions.
  • Isolating people with mental illness exacerbates their symptoms and can lead to psychiatric decompensation with tragic results.
  • The NYC DOC attempt to operate a separate residential unit (Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates) specifically for people with mental illness sentenced to punitive segregation has completely failed to provide needed treatment and any respite from the harsh and harmful conditions of punitive segregation.  Some people have committed suicide in the unit and others, who thrive in less restrictive environments, have become violent and dangerous when housed in the unit.
  • A newer separate residential unit (Restricted Housing Unit) has similarly failed to provide needed treatment and out-of-cell programming.  NYC DOC has not been able to operate the unit without resorting to additional penalties and transfers from the unit to punitive segregation.
  • Individuals who suffer from physical disability or temporary disability because of serious injury endure dangerous neglect in punitive segregation where they have difficulties with daily functioning and with obtaining needed medical attention.
  • Adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable to the harms of punitive segregation.  Punishing young persons with solitary confinement compromises their physical and mental health and should not be allowed.
  • 48% of adolescents admitted to New York City jails suffer from mental disabilities at the time of admission, and that number does not include adolescents whose mental disability has not yet become manifest.
  • Far from making New York City jails safe, the current system of punitive segregation fosters violence in New York City jails and exacerbates threats to institutional security.
  • Despite national and New York state efforts to reform the harmful use of solitary confinement, the NYC DOC has expanded use of punitive segregation by 44% in 2012.

Individuals housed in punitive segregation in our jails are suffering now.   Reform is long overdue.  The NYC DOC has been unable to create meaningful reform without assistance and the BOC should use their authority to provide the assistance required to promulgate the regulations which will assist in implementing meaningful reform now.

PLEASE ACT NOW!

Contact members of the BOC and urge them to vote to initiate rule-making on June 3.

► We have attached a sample letter that you can email to the Board through Cathy Potler, Executive Director, at cpotler@boc.nyc.gov or fax to 212-788-7860.  Please send us a copy of the letter (email tojparish@urbanjustice.org or fax to 212-533-4598) as well so that we can deliver it to the Board Members.

► We also need you to attend the BOC meetingon Monday, June 3, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. in the public hearing room of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission at1 Centre Street, in Room 924 (9th Floor).  JAC members will be rallying outside starting at 8:15 a.m.  Please join us!

► Contact Board Members individually.  Gerald Harris is the Chair, and Alexander Rovt is the Vice-Chair.  The other members are Catherine Abate, Greg Berman, Pamela Brier, Bobby Cohen, Michael Regan, Pamela Silverblatt,  and Milton Williams.

Thanks for your support.

MODEL LETTER TO BOARD OF CORRECTION:

Board of Correction
51 Chambers Street
Room 923
New York, NY  10007

Dear Chairman Harris and Members of the NYC Board of Correction:

We strongly urge you to vote on June 3 to immediately initiate the rule-making process to implement regulations for the use of isolated confinement in the New York City jails.

We supported the Jails Action Coalition’s campaign for the adoption of rules regarding the use of isolated confinement because the City jail system of punitive segregation is inhumane and causes needless suffering and injury.  The Board of Correction should utilize its authority to promulgate “minimum standards for the care, custody, correction, treatment, supervision, and discipline” of persons held in our jails to implement long needed reform of punitive segregation including barring individuals with mental and physical disabilities and young persons from this harsh and harmful punishment.

The NYC Department of Correction has been unable to create meaningful reform without assistance, and the Board should not delay to use its authority to provide the assistance required to promulgate minimum standards which will assist in implementing meaningful reform now.

Please take action now and vote to proceed with rule-making on June 3.

Sincerely,

 

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